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Brokaw speaks of troubled times, need for excellence

“I am privileged to accept this award in the name of a man who was my first hero in broadcast journalism,” said Tom Brokaw as he held the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting at WSU last night.

Brokaw told the capacity crowd, which included Edward R. Murrow’s son and grandsons, that he thinks of Murrow as the founding father of broadcast journalism. “I am at an age and a stage where few things move me anymore, but this one does deeply.”

A veteran broadcast journalist and former NBC anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, Brokaw told the crowd he is a fan of public universities, and he praised Washington State for its research and contributions to the state and country.

Brokaw explained that he would address most of his remarks to the young people in the crowd. “These are difficult and troubled times,” he began. “We are at war. At this moment young people are in uniform and in harm’s way. And no matter how you feel about the decisions that placed them in harm’s way, you cannot feel disconnected from their service, citizen to citizen. It is not healthy to have a military service that is out of sight and out of mind,” said Brokaw.

Brokaw put the spotlight on the responsibility of journalists when he told the crowd, “These are serious times requiring serious journalism practiced by serious professionals,” and he continued with a to-do list for young communicators, saying “the primary challenge of our time is to bank the fires of hostility now burning out of control. To neutralize the hatred. To expedite not just global competition economically and politically but also global understanding and the kind of courageous journalism backed by Edward R. Murrow.”

Brokaw told the crowd of more than 4,000 that people are often surprised when they ask him about the personalities he found most memorable during his 40 years in broadcasting. Brokaw said they usually expect it to be a world leader or one of the big names or marquee headliners that made his career. “Instead,” Brokaw said, “I am much more likely to recall the brave young people who risked their lives in this country, black people and white people, who demonstrated for civil rights in the American South. Young people who fought in the war in Vietnam and against the war here at home.”

During a question and answer session Brokaw was asked to give his thoughts on the state of broadcast journalism. “There are a lot of choices,” Brokaw began. “I think by and large broadcast news is healthy. The problem is, the squeaky wheel gets the attention.” Brokaw said the future is harder to talk about because it involves the World Wide Web. Brokaw said it is still unclear the role the Web will play in the future of communication.

In his introduction of Brokaw, Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins said that “communication is a career that is very easy to criticize, but done the way it should be it is a very tough job to do. And it’s even tougher to get it right day after day. Like Murrow himself, Tom Brokaw has worked diligently throughout his career to get it right.”

During his distinguished career, Brokaw has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including two DuPont awards, a Peabody Award and several Emmys. He continues to produce documentary projects for NBC. Brokaw is the author of three bestsellers: “The Greatest Generation,” “The Greatest Generation Speaks” and “An Album of Memories.” Brokaw was inducted as a fellow into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

Named for Edward R. Murrow, a 1930 graduate of Washington State College, now Washington State University, the Murrow Symposium brings the nation’s top communicators to campus to honor the Murrow legacy and to take part in a dialogue on the state of communication.

Previous panel discussion attendees and/or award winners include Eric Severeid, Charles Kuralt, Howard K. Smith, Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, Sander Vanocur, Jody Powell, Bernard Kalb, Bettina Gregory, Barry Serafin, Jack Anderson, Sam Donaldson, Keith Jackson, Ted Turner, Bernard Shaw, Daniel Schorr, Al Neuharth, Christiane Amanpour, Sir Howard Stringer and Peter Jennings.

Brokaw’s speech is viewable on-line at: http://experience.wsu.edu/

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