The Norman Transcript

November 18, 2008

Lehrer receives inaugural Gaylord Prize

By Julianna Parker

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In an age of advancing technology, the basics of journalism will stay the same even as the medium in which it is delivered changes, journalist Jim Lehrer said Monday when he accepted the inaugural Gaylord Prize in Oklahoma City.

"In the beginning there is always a news story," Lehrer said. Blogs, podcasts and comedy shows may be commentators, but they have to get their information from hard news.

"It has to start with one of us -- one of us being reporters, one of us who was there, one of us who read the original document, one of us who got the first interview," he said.

Lehrer addressed area journalists and journalism students when he accepted the award at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. He is the first winner of the Gaylord Prize for Excellence in Journalism and Mass Communication, administered by the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

OU President David Boren said the idea for the prize was born in a conversation with Edward L. Gaylord over lunch one day.

"He said, 'By the way, would you mind if I gave you $22 million to establish the school of journalism as a college?'" Boren said.

Included in that gift was the establishment of the Gaylord Prize. In that same lunch conversation, Gaylord told Boren the first recipient of the prize would be an important decision.

"Just be sure that the first time the prize is awarded it's awarded to someone truly special," Gaylord told Boren.

Boren said Lehrer is the perfect first recipient of the Gaylord Prize.

"No journalist in America is more respected or sets higher standards than he has," Boren said.

Lehrer is the executive editor and anchor of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." An Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning journalist, he was chosen to moderate the presidential and vice presidential debates for the past six elections. Lehrer also is a playwright and author of 18 novels.

"I am just really really proud to be a Gaylord Prize winner, and the first Gaylord Prize winner," Lehrer said.

In his acceptance address, Lehrer said the world of journalism is going through a revolution with the advent of blogs, comedy news shows, podcasts, the Internet and other forms of new media. He said too many journalists, however, are frightened that journalism will become obsolete.

"What I have to say to my fellow and sister journalists is calm down," he said.

There can be no comedy news shows, blogs, podcasts or pundits without reporters out there collecting the news in the first place, Lehrer said.

Reporters will never be obsolete, he said. What is more, Lehrer said, the bombardment of information available now with new forms of media has made the traditional journalism role of gatekeeper of information even more important.

In order to continue to deliver the important news to the American people, journalists are going to have to stick to their strength: Gathering news. The method of delivery and distribution might be different, but good journalism will stay the same.

"It also means leaving the profits to the search engines, the shouting to the shouters, the entertaining to the clowns," Lehrer said.

Lehrer said he has a response for those who ask for something different in their news.

"You want to be entertained? Go to the circus, don't watch the NewsHour."

Julianna Parker 366-3541 jparker@normantranscript.com