Poynter Institute Bowtie Ball featured heavy hitters

Photo courtesy of Simply Blue Studios. Keith Woods, vice president of newsroom training and diversity at National Public Radio and Denise Smith, former Fox 13 news anchor in Tampa, were on hand to share words of support to the institute.

BY FAYE TIPPY, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — It was a night to celebrate freedom of speech and honor achievements in journalism. The Poynter Institute’s fifth annual Bowtie Ball, held Nov. 2 at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort, brought out some of journalism’s brightest minds.

Approximately 550 people, including journalists, media executives, philanthropists, educators and business and community leaders, came out to honor two journalists that have left distinctive marks on the industry — Katie Couric and Norman Pearlstine.

Both Couric and Pearlstine sat down with Poynter executives for a question and answer session that touched on subjects such as the media’s changing landscape and workplace culture.

Couric, who is well known for being the co-anchor on NBC’s Today show for 15 years before becoming the first woman to solo anchor a nightly network news broadcast, spoke about sexism in the workplace. She said she’s faced chauvinism and implicit bias and encourages women to stand up for themselves and not apologize for wanting to “contribute to a conversation.”

As a former news anchor and now media company owner, Couric spoke with Kelly McBride, senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, about the upcoming presidential election and what questions should be asked of the candidates. Instead of talking about what a poor job the current president is doing, she wants to hear about their vision for America and what their plans are for working-class people in small towns across the country.

Couric, who is an alum of the Poynter Institute, was honored with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

Neil Brown, president of the Poynter Institute, discussed the decline of print media and reaching broader audiences with Pearlstine, the executive editor of the Los Angeles Times.

With newspapers around the country shuttering their operations almost daily, Pearlstine feels that there needs to be more of a focus on local coverage such as homelessness, the housing crisis, immigration, the environment and education. Almost every city in America is grappling with one or more of these issues, and readers want to be informed about their area.

Pearlstine said local news entities must feature more diverse voices and not assume “everybody thinks the same thing about everything.”

“I think the most important thing we can do is really listen to the people we hope to serve. In doing so, we learn a great deal about what is valuable and what is important,” said Pearlstine, whose career spans more than five decades at top media giants such as Wall Street Journal, Time Warner and Bloomberg.

Pearlstine was awarded the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award, and the South Florida Sentinel was also recognized for its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last year.

The Weekly Challenger was a media sponsor.

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