ABC News Colleagues David Muir and Diane Sawyer Recognized with Inaugural Savitch Award

ITHACA, NY — ABC News colleagues David Muir and Diane Sawyer have been recognized as the inaugural recipients of the Jessica Savitch Award of Distinction for Excellence in Journalism, bestowed by the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. Muir succeeded Sawyer last September as anchor of “ABC World News Tonight.”

The award was presented in a ceremony held on March 13 at the Paley Center for Media in New York City. Muir, who is a 1995 graduate of Ithaca College, accepted the honor for himself and Sawyer. He was also awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater.

Video of the ceremony can be found on the Park School’s Livestream site (forward to the 41-minute mark), with photos on its Facebook page.

The Jessica Savitch Award was created to honor the spirit of the pioneering NBC News anchor and correspondent. A 1968 graduate of Ithaca College, Savitch helped inspire and pave the way for a new generation of women in broadcast journalism. She remained closely involved with the college throughout her career and was serving on the board of trustees at the time of her 1983 death in an automobile accident.

Diane Gayeski, dean of Park School, opened the ceremony by noting that the award recognizes distinguished journalists serve as mentors to future journalists. Sawyer was one of Muir’s mentors, and he in turn has returned to campus frequently — both in person and via Skype — to counsel current communications students.

Presenting the award was assistant professor of journalism Anthony Adornato, who had started as an intern at WTVH-TV in Syracuse when Muir was working there as a reporter and anchor. Adornato said two things have always stuck with him from those days.

“The first was feeling like I was part of the team, even as a college kid. David was one of those people who always treated me with respect. The second thing I remember from working with David and paying close attention to how he approached stories is the idea of putting the audience first. Remembering that people are at the heart of what we do.”

Muir echoed that principle in his acceptance remarks. He thanked the Park School for helping prepare him for his journalism career “from day one,” humbly acknowledged his predecessors in the ABC News anchor chair and noted that he owes viewers something of value in exchange for their time.

“It’s a true honor for me. It’s been an honor ever since Labor Day, walking down that hallway, knowing that Peter [Jennings], and Charlie [Gibson] and Diane [Sawyer] — who were all incredible mentors to me — walked down that very hallway before I did. So when I sit in that chair, it’s not lost on me that I have a duty to uphold the incredible job that they did before me. But the upmost duty is to the viewers at home; to let them know that every single night we’re asking the questions that they’re asking all day long, and that the broadcast is really about them, not about us.”

In a surprise to Muir, the event concluded with him being presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Ithaca College president Tom Rochon. The degree citation noted the many important stories he has covered and awards he has won, and quoted from the commencement address he delivered to the graduating class of 2011: “You don’t need a camera or a microphone to have a voice. You already have a voice, and my role is simply to urge you to use it.”

“You covered the story in West Virginia about the letters left behind by miners caught in the Sago Coal Mine disaster,” the citation continued. “You enabled the world to hear the voices of those calling for democracy in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and of those who lost their families and homes in Fukushima, Japan, following the deadly tsunami and nuclear power plant accident… You encourage others to use their voice, while at the same time you have used your own voice to help us better understand the world.”

Industry professionals in attendance at the award ceremony included ABC News president James Goldston, vice president of communications Julie Townsend, correspondent Deborah Roberts and senior meteorologist Rob Marciano; “NBC Nightly News” director Brett Holey and associate directors Judy Farinet and Roberta Spring (a longtime friend of Savitch’s); and WNBC-TV news anchors Chuck Scarborough, Sue Simmons and Sibila Vargas.

Also on hand were a number of Ithaca College graduates working in the field, including “Live with Kelly and Michael” production executive Art Moore ’66, former NBC News correspondent Bob Kur ’70; WNBC-TV sports anchor Bruce Beck ’78, senior vice president of communications for CBS Sports Jennifer Sabatelle ’94 and CNBC personal finance reporter Kelli Grant ’04.

For more information contact Melissa Gattine, marketing communications manager in the Park School, at (607) 274-1023 or mgattine@ithaca.edu.

ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir accepts the Jessica Savitch Award of Distinction for Excellence in Journalism. Photo credit: Francine Daveta