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The best in the business.

Three of the 10 winners in our ninth annual Best in the Business poll were voted really, really good at their jobs by readers, with each winning in two different categories. The dual winners are the first in the awards' history.

CNN was an overwhelming favorite, receiving the most votes as the best electronic source of news and information (58.4 percent) and best network for coverage of the 1992 presidential campaign (30.7 percent). National Public Radio placed a distant second in the news source category with 20.7 percent; ABC placed second for campaign coverage with 18.4 percent.

Satirist Molly Ivins of the Fort Worth Star-telegram also won twice, taking gutsiest columnist with 24.7 percent of the votes, and writer whose work best reflects the regional flavor with 33.5 percent. Ivins edged out the Chicago Tribune's Mike Royko, who was voted best columnist in 1985, by narrow margins in both categories.

Another dual winner, the "MacNeil/Lehrer News-Hour," received 44.5 percent of the votes in the category for best TV panel news or public affairs discussion program ("This Week With David Brinkley" was second with 26.9 percent), and 24.5 percent in the category for best TV newsmagazine program, edging out "60 Minutes" (23.1 percent), which received the honor in 1990.

NBC'S Bob Costas became a first-time winner, breezing by the competition for best sportscaster with 42.8 percent of the votes. CBS'John Madden and ABC'S Al Michaels tied for second with 15.3 percent each.

This year's results included a number of repeat winners. The Washington Post was voted best newspaper for investigative reporting (20.7 percent), edging out the Wall Street Journal, which received 20.4 percent. The Post won the same category in 1990. The New York Times, which in the past has been voted best newspaper for news and paper with the best editorial page, won for best newspaper coverage of the presidential campaign, with 39.9 percent of the votes. (The Washington Post was second with 23.1 percent.) Newsweek dominated the magazine category for coverage of the campaign, also with 39.9 percent, stomping U.S. News & World Report and Time, which got 19.8 percent and 19.1 percent respectively. Newsweek topped the same category in 1989, and in the past won for best magazine and best design.

Jeff MacNelly of the Chicago Tribune was a repeat winner for best editorial cartoonist (he tied with Pat Oliphant in 1987, who was a close second this time). So was Frank Deford at Newsweek, who was voted best sportswriter. Deford, who will be moving to Vanity Fair this month, was named best magazine writer in 1988 and 1989. And Ted Koppel topped the category for gutsiest television commentator with 25.6 percent of the votes. His colleagues at ABC, Jeff Greenfield and Sam Donaldson, weren't far behind. Last year "Nightline" was voted best television news interview or discussion program.

Twenty-three journalists nominated entries in each of the 13 categories. The poll was sent to 5,000 random subscribers; 1,148 responded, about the same as last year.

Almost 90 percent of respondents answered "yes" to our question, "Non-journalists conducting radio and TV talk and call-in shows had high visibility during the 1992 presidential campaign. Did this add to public understanding of the issues and the candidates?" 88.2 percent thought that the public and the political process benefited from the call-in shows. 11.8 percent disagreed. A sampling of comments:

* I believe it helped pique public interest, leading people to turn to news sources for better understanding and indepth coverage.

* Adding interest - which they undoubtedly did - is a far cry from adding understanding.

* It has given candidates direct, non-mediated access to the public; it will increase voter turnout and change political campaigning forever.

* Good info needn't only come from the "anointed." We need thicker skins.

* Talk is cheap. Real news takes hard work. When's the last time Rush Limbaugh did any investigating.?

* You have to admit that Arsenio Hall is a bit more accessible to the average voter than hour after grinding hour of C-SPAN.

* News organizations have been caving to the chronic but surging public hatred of the media by promoting public access and non-professionals in broadcasting. The result is a wave of self-indulgence and nuttiness.

* With due respect and consideration, Larry King, Rush Limbaugh and Kurt Loder (MTV) added immense knowledge to public discourse and posed a useful and amusing challenge to "conventional" media.

* Questions from the public don't make the candidates squirm as much as some from journalists, but I question whether the responses these "squirm" questions evoke are as useful to the voters as they are satisfying to the journalists.

* It merely permitted the candidate to get more exposure in a format he or she could control.

* The "without a net" nature of phone-in programs lends some ownership of the coverage to the public.

* The people who call in represent only a small segment of public opinion and little original thought. Journalists can give more background, better perspective and more original thought to issues.

* Since when did the fourth estate get a lock on political discourse? Viewers are sick to death of analysts and spin doctors. These call-in shows are a welcome departure from conventional wisdom.

* The people who call talk shows should get a life.

* BEST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Washington Post

"Accountability reporting is one of the important roles for the media now," says Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., 50. Ifs also the latest watchword to emerge from the post-Ben Bradlee leadership team of Downie and Managing Editor Robert Kaiser. They are encouraging hard-digging reporting throughout the paper that looks beyond wrongdoing, as Downie explains, and examines "why things are the way they are."

He cites stories by the paper's national staff on the Clinton passport search, a series by Post foreign correspondents on the United Nations and in-depth pieces in sections from Style to Sports.

For many years, the Metro section has had a special projects editor. Last year the paper decided to assign London correspondent Steve Coll to its new investigative slot for foreign news. And in a rare move, the paper hired Florence Graves on a freelance basis to further investigate allegations of improper sexual advances by Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood.

These changes don't mean less work for the Post's investigative unit, headed by Steve Luxenberg, 40, assistant managing editor for special projects. "There is no way that any team of any reasonable size could be responsible for investigative reporting all over the paper," says Luxenberg.

The current investigative team includes Charles Babcock, Leon Dash, Athelia Knight, Charles Shepard and Ben Weiser. Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor for investigative news, consults with, but does not directly oversee, the reporters.

Most of the unit's work, such as articles examining fiscal mismanagement at United Way, appears on the front page. When Luxenberg joined the paper in 1985 as deputy assistant managing editor for investigative reporting, the unit's focus, he says, was more on sociological and feature investigative reporting." Now, he says, projects have a harder edge."

* GUTSIEST COLUMNIST

* WORK BEST REFLECTING REGION

Molly Ivins

"I think I wanted to be a foreign correspondent so I could lope around the world being paid a nice sum to have exotic adventures in great places," Molly Ivins, 48, recalls of her early interest in journalism.

Now, the whole world is fair game for the Fort Worth Star-telegram columnist. Syndicated in about 100 papers, Ivins is boldly opinionated, strident and occasionally overbearing. She's said of George Bush, "Unless someone else writes a speech for him, the president of the United States sounds like a borderline moron." And she warned of one Texas politician, "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day."

Ivins has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University but insists my graduate school was the Texas Observer-the finest graduate school of journalism in the country. I didn't have to be objective. There were none of those silly AP style rules at the Observer,' says Ivins, who co-edited the liberal magazine. Ivins left the Observer in 1976 for the New York Times, a paper which she describes as "No Fun." She says she was fired after calling a community chicken killing festival a gang-pluck.' Ivins returned to Texas, working for the Dallas Times Herald for almost 10 years before it folded last year.

Ivins admits she's had some of the best jobs in journalism ("Either I'm incredibly lucky or I'm really easy to please"), the columnist's perch being one of them. I know we're always looked upon with great envy, and I have been known to spit out a column in an hour and a half without any research. But it really does require a lot more than that."

Editors do call "about questions of taste," as one did last year when she wrote that economic charts Ross Perot was using contained phallic symbols. It was deleted. "Every now and again I go too far."

* BEST EDITORIAL CARTOONIST

Jeff MacNelly

"I wish there were set way of doing this,' says editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, 45. For MacNelly, who has been drawing cartoons for more than 20 years, it's the daily process of reading newspapers, listening to public radio and watching C-SPAN that inspires the genie in his ink bottle.

"I'm always thinking of the amount of information we have to deal with and are assaulted by," he says. "One of my roles, aside from pointing out the hypocrisy of the moment, or the hypocrite of the moment, is to cut through all of the flak and to oversimplify."

By the time he dropped out of college in North Carolina in 1969, MacNelly had launched his career with the local paper in Chapel Hill. He went on to work at the Richmond News Leader for 11 years before joining the Chicago Tribune in 1981.

MacNelly says he's had a few cartoons rejected for bad taste, but that's rare. "The Tribune has always been remarkably supportive," he says.

He recalls one nasty cartoon" that angered many Catholics. It combined the incident in which singer Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of the Pope on "Saturday Night Live" and reports of child abuse by some Catholic priests. The cartoon depicted several outraged priests, except one who asks, "I wonder what she's doing Friday night?"

MacNelly has a desk in the Tribune's Washington bureau, but rarely visits. I am pretty much of a phantom. I was thinking of getting an inflatable version of myself and sticking it in the seat."

He lives with his wife up in a little mountain" in Virginia. "I'm most comfortable away from [Washington]," says MacNelly. "When I worked in Richmond, I found out that I was a lot closer to what people were thinking. And I think that's what my function should be."

* BEST CAMPAIGN COVERAGE

New York Times

With last year's campaign coverage, the New York times may have finally shed its outdated image as the gray lady of journalism. It's no longer said that the Times' political coverage is solid but not outstanding, or dominated by middle-aged white men.

In fashion vernacular, the Times' political reporting has gone from polyester to spandex. "If I were looking for one reason why people responded so well to our reporting it was the quality of the writing. We had a remarkable bank of writing talent," says Howell Raines, 50. The former head of the Times' Washington bureau, now editorial page editor, was instrumental in developing the paper's campaign strategy, along with Deputy National Editor Dennis Stem.

Immediately after the election in 1988 we started to think about 1992 and what kind of team we wanted. And we started building it right away," he says. Robin Toner became the Times' first female national political correspondent. The paper groomed others and made selective hires for a nucleus that included Richard Berke, Maureen Dowd, Steven Holmes, Gwen Ifill, Michael Kelly and David Rosenbaum.

It also had R.W. Johnny" Apple, Raines' successor at the Washington bureau. "He's the most unique observer and stylist in American political journalism," says Raines.

More traditional campaign reporting would have had one or two top writers with other reporters in subordinate roles, Raines points out, but we felt we had a more diverse array of talent and needed a concept to fit the richness and variety of the talent." The result was more analytical reporting of the issues and personalities that was both informative and fun to read.

"The major thing we learned was to plan ahead in a very specific way for who is going to be involved and who are the people you are going to count on to be there, and to give them the experiences they need in the interim years," Raines says. "That gave us the edge."

* BEST CAMPAIGN COVERAGE

Newsweek

Of all the covers Newsweek printed during the presidential campaign, the one that stands out for Editor Maynard Parker was "The Quitter."

Many readers commented on it, including its subject, Ross Perot, who's still smarting, according to Parker. "It really got under his skin," Parker says. He's not talked to us in any sustained way since then."

Newsstand copies of Newsweek sold well last year, a reflection, Parker believes, of a keen public interest in the election. "I've been at this for 25 years," he says. This was the most interesting campaign that I've been involved in. We owe a lot of that to Perot. The drama that he injected made politics far more interesting."

Parker, 52, also credits the caliber of Newsweek's staff. "I think the most important thing in this as in all of journalism is to get the best people. That's where we stood head and shoulders above our competition."

The Newsweek team included Assistant Managing Editors Alexis Gelber and Evan Thomas, Senior Editors Jonathan Alter and Joe Klein, correspondents Eleanor Clift, Howard Fineman, Ann McDaniel and Mark Miller, and Senior Writer Bill Turque.

"We decided at the beginning to have a small core group and that they would carry the brunt of the load," says Parker. Amidst sound bites and instant analyses, Parker says the Newsweek team provided depth.

"Our role was to analyze, to look over the horizon, and to sift out from the tremendous barrage of news that hits you all day long, including the trash television shows," he says. And do it in a way that's efficient to the readers' time as well as fun and exciting.

We're lucky. Unlike a lot of print competitors, we have real competition. It keeps us much sharper."

* BEST SPORTSWRITER

Frank Deford

When Frank Deford's close friend, the late tennis star Arthur Ashe, called a press conference last April to confirm he had AIDS, Deford, 54, spent the day with him. That evening the veteran sportswriter was too drained to write. "I just couldn't face the typewriter," Deford says. He went to bed.

The next morning he wrote a tender, revealing two-page article for Newsweek on the agony Ashe went through. "I've always been an emotional writer," Deford says, but the situation involving Ashe was particularly difficult. You have to make a decision about where you are intruding and taking advantage of your friendship."

Since last year Deford has been a contributing editor at Newsweek, where he has written a column and several of his trademark personality pieces, including cover stories about the U.S. Olympic basketball "dream team" and a profile of track star Carl Lewis. This month, attracted by the opportunity to write longer pieces, he joins Vanity Fair.

Deford is also a sports commentator for National Public Radio and ESPN Radio, appears on television as a commentator, and is finishing his 11th book (a novel set in pre-World War Il Japan). One screenplay by Deford has been produced and two of his books have been made into movies. "I'm sort of in every medium," he says.

In 1962, fresh from Princeton, Deford joined Sports Illustrated. He stayed for 27 years and became one of the nation's premier sportswriters. In 1989, Deford left to become editor in chief of the National, a daily which Deford calls a bold attempt to become America's first sports newspaper.' Unfortunately, the paper folded in the summer of 1991.

Deford credits Sports Illustrated with making sportswriting "a more respectable occupation." The proliferation of cable television and all-sports radio stations and the advent of ESPN have also contributed to the dramatic expansion of coverage, says Deford. "In journalism, sports is simply more ubiquitous than it has ever been."

* BEST TV PANEL NEWS PROGRAM

* BEST TV NEWSMAGAZINE

MacNeil/Lehrer

If anyone awarded trophies for sheer endurance in broadcast journalism, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, who have been anchoring their PBS evening news show since 1975, would have to top the list of recipients. Such staying power has made them an institution.

The two have been linked since 1973 when they worked together on a documentary, and then covered the Watergate hearings. Surprisingly, their partnership has been built via telephones and satellites. MacNeil (who also goes by "Robin") is in New York and Lehrer is in Washington, D.C. The two men actually see each other only seven or eight times a year, although they often talk 20 to 30 times a day.

"This is a very treacherous business in a personal way," Lehrer says. "Your whole life depends on getting on the air. That can turn adults into children and keep them that way. When you have someone you can trust and admire as a partner, you are not alone."

The show has its fans, but MacNeil, 62, and Lehrer, 58, also have been chided for being boring. According to MacNeil, they've been mimicked on "The Tonight Show" and last year David Letterman included Jim and Robert dolls in his top 10 list of least favorite Christmas gifts. "It's amazing," laughs MacNeil, "but we run into people who say |We love your program. We couldn't live without it. We watch it every week.'"

They shrug off the needling. Of far more importance to them is the product and the fact that people watch. Since the 1991 Soviet coup, they have noticed a surge in the audience during major news events. They also benefited from last year's arrangement to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions with NBC. Since then, there have been discussions about combining forces on other events.

Winning AJR'S award in two categories doesn't perplex them. "We're a little bit of everything," MacNeil says.

* BEST ELECTRONIC SOURCE OF NEWS

* BEST CAMPAIGN COVERAGE

CNN

Without a doubt, 1992 will be remembered as the year in which presidential campaigners chucked the 30-second sound bite for the television talk show, with Ross Perot launching his campaign on CNN'S "Larry King Show."

King became as familiar as the candidates he chatted with. "It was quite a new development in campaign coverage to have a TV show of that quality where viewers could connect directly to the candidates," says Tom Johnson, 51, CNN president.

It was an unexpected bonus for CNN, whose campaign coverage included following each candidate on the trail, sending more than 300 staffers to each political convention, and conducting joint polls with Time, USA Today and Gallup.

But a day in the life of CNN last year also meant covering other big stories, from the Los Angeles riots to Hurricane Andrew. "Today, we're the network of record for day-in, day-out news," Johnson says. Johnson came to CNN from the Los Angeles Times, where he was publisher and CEO. Johnson missed the day-to-day news operations after being moved up the corporate ladder.

The 13-year-old cable network, once dubbed the "Chicken Noodle Network," might now be called the "Conqueror of Network News." More than 60 percent of U.S. homes with TVs have cable, and more than 90 percent of those get CNN. Sixty-two million people outside the United States receive CNN, and in an effort to reach even more, CNN has added its signals to five powerful new international satellites.

Look for even more global expansion this year, says Johnson, who arrived at CNN in August 1990 just as Iraq invaded Kuwait. The war put Johnson back in the middle of the action, where he likes to be. Like a good book, he says, "everything has turned out well."

* GUTSIEST COMMENTATOR

Ted Koppel

Ted Koppel, anchor for "Nightline," was slightly unsettled when told he was chosen as television's gutsiest commentator. "I try very hard to avoid being a commentator too often because of the inference that goes with that," says Koppel, 53. "This job depends very heavily on my being perceived as impartial. I do want this to be a broadcast that people of varying stripes and political persuasions can feel comfortable appearing on." If the program as a whole is perceived as gutsy, however, Koppel says he's pleased.

"Before I will take a stand I have to feel very strongly, or feel that my colleagues are not touching a subject sufficiently," says Koppel. We were very early in doing stories on Iraq, and when it came to television, very lonely on Iran-contra."

Whenever he can, Koppel slips out of his interviewer-moderator chair for a chance to do what he genuinely loves: reporting. After 29 years with ABC News, 13 spent as anchor of "Nightline," it's understandable.

"There comes a point when sitting at an anchor desk becomes confining," says "Nightline" Executive Producer Tom Bettag. "His desire to get out and do more reporting has done a lot to give him a lot of satisfaction. Nightline' is flexible enough that it can be anything he wants it to be."

This malleable format is "one of the lovely things about working on this show," Koppel says.

"Every year the show has evolved and changed. While some people may have the sense that Nightline' in 1992 is the same as |Nightline' in 1982, I can assure them that it isn't," he adds.

Koppel is unfazed by his television stardom. "I was a reporter long before I was a matinee idol."

* BEST SPORTSCASTER

Bob Costas

"The rule of thumb in sportscasting is that you only use a small fraction of what you prepare," says NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, 41. Before covering a game, he compiles statistics, biographies and other bits of information that might be useful. "The story line evolves moment to moment," says Costas. "You prepare as much as you can, but you never know how much you will use."

That's a lot of preparing, considering Costas' schedule. Last year, he hosted pre-game shows for National Football League and pro basketball games, and was the prime time host for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, anchoring 86 of the network's 161 broadcast hours. This year he hosted the Super Bowl pre-game show.

On weekends he commutes from his home in St. Louis to New York City to host pre-game NFL and NBA shows. He also hosts his nationally syndicated Sunday night sports radio talk show, "Costas Coast-to-coast," and tapes segments of his late night interview television show, "Later with Bob Costas," that airs Monday through Thursday following David Letterman's show. "I'm crazy" for doing so much, he jokes. "I should have a lobotomy."

Costas began his career in 1974 covering sports for Syracuse University's student-run radio and television station. He later covered the University of Missouri's basketball team for KMOX before joining NBC in 1981.

"What I am is really a hybrid broadcaster," Costas says. "A little of what I do is news reporting. At times I'm a dramatist, then a straight dispenser of information, and then even a little bit of an entertainer."

After the most recent Super Bowl, Costas says he's giving up his role as host of NFL pre-game shows. Coverage of the next Olympics hasn't been set and Letterman is moving to CBS. "I'm waiting to see what happens." Whatever comes his way, he adds, "I don't think I would ever want to stop being a sportscaster."
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Maryland
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Title Annotation:includes related article on public reaction to talk-show use during the 1992 presidential campaign; 1993 American Journalism Review readers poll
Author:Pagano, Penny; Cobb, Jean
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:4006
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