Don Gale, who has written 3,507 editorials for KSL television and radio, is being honored with this year's Society of Professional Journalists distinguished service award for three of them.
They are among a dozen Gale wrote last year opposing the tax limitation initiatives. He will receive the award at a ceremony in Nashville May 5.I am more and more persuaded that journalists give entirely too many kudos to themselves (the Editor and Publisher annual directory lists more than 500 in daily newspaper work alone) and that some are given for fairly routine work.
This one, however, is exceptionally well-merited. It is also scarce, the major award for broadcast editorializing. And while it carries no cash prize it ranks in prestige not much under the Pulitzers.
-COMPRESSING AN ISSUE as complex as the tax initiatives into a few messages of 90 seconds or exactly 247 words, casting it into a reasoned argument, and making it all interesting, understandable, fair and human is no mean task.
Not many try. Gale, who is vice president for news and public affairs for KSL's parent company, Bonneville International, is the only broadcast editorial writer in Utah. His low-key but thoughtful and often witty commentaries on a wide variety of issues are heard four times each weekday on radio (6:25 a.m. and 12:43, 6:16 and 9:14 p.m.) and three times on TV, 9 a.m. and 1 and 11 p.m.). You can also get them on KSL's Teletext if you have a decoder or a computer modem. And about 300 opinion leaders get a transcript by mail.
Nationally, too, not many broadcasters were bothering to editorialize before the FCC killed its Fairness Doctrine about a year ago. Even fewer do now, perhaps 600 among the nation's 9,000 radio and 1,000 TV stations.
The Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to seek out issues in the community and to report and comment on them with overall balance. When Congress ended this requirement, as part of the thrust toward broadcast deregulation, a lot of broadcast journalists were torn. They weren't crazy about regulation, but many thought stations would be less inclined to take a stand on community controversies now.
-MOST STATIONS don't even do news. "In some areas," Gale laments, "it's possible for young people to go through an entire day of radio listening without hearing a newscast. Many other stations do nothing you could really call news, maybe a two-minute rip-and-read off the wire. And many who do have a news operation confine it to the morning and evening drive times."
He hasn't missed a scheduled day in the 11 years since he started (he used to do them seven days a week), except for days on which a rebuttal is aired, typically about one in 10. He still writes every editorial himself, though the ideas often come from, and all are OK'd by, the station's editorial board.
Gale likes the rebuttals and sometimes even helps the authors whip them into shape. "We don't expect everyone to agree," he says. "My concept is not that we are molding public opinion so much as encouraging public discussions and thought."
Editorializing is not only expensive but also risky. It runs the risk of alienating some of the audience and clients. Why then does KSL do it?
KSL has a tradition of editorials going back to 1962. "We believe that's part of our commitment to community service. We think one of the roles a broadcasting station ought to have is to further discussion of significant public issues," Gale says.
Bonneville's second television station, KIRO in Seattle, and one of its 12 radio stations, KMBZ in Kansas City, an all-news format, also editorialize and sometimes use some of Gale's.
Gale also has served a term as president of the Broadcast Editorial Association and headed the arrangements for its annual meetings here in 1985. His previous awards include two from the Radio Television News Directors Association and a number of Utah Headliners SPJ chapter's Mark of Excellence awards, where his entries have had to compete directly with print journalists.
-IN EVERY TRAGEDY "how do you feel?" coverage of the survivors is an almost certain media reaction. Never mind that it is often criticized as invasion of anxiety and grief at a time people are most vulnerable.
Such was the case when the Marines died in Lebanon and predictably again in the aftermath of the explosion of the gun turret on the USS Iowa last week that left 47 sailors dead.
In a story out of Norfolk, the Iowa's home port, NBC Wednesday night interviewed on camera several mothers and wives who were still awaiting word from the vessel about the fate of their loved ones. The following night it interviewed three more families that had just had the dreadful news.
The other national newscast I watched, the CBS Evening News, did not feature the relatives angle the first evening. But in a virtual scene-by-scene duplication of the NBC report the following night it interviewed two families, including one NBC had also singled out. It featured a tearful mother still refusing to believe her son had perished.
USA Today also carried a story headline "Families Waiting - and Hoping," with interviews. Significantly, the strongest and most newsworthy statements came from the Navy spokesman who was giving updates to the families, which he called "a ministry of presence."
But most of the papers I followed for three days after the tragedy found it unnecessary to use family reaction stories, not a line in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or the Salt Lake Tribune. The Deseret News used a subdued piece Friday evening. Overall, the press tends to be less voyeuristic than TV in disaster coverage.