Renowned journalist Barbara Walters has been honored by Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications as the 2016 recipient of the Jessica Savitch Award of Distinction for Excellence in Journalism, an accolade that recognizes broadcasters for their professional excellence and for their mentorship of new journalists.
The award ceremony was held on Friday, March 18, at the Paley Center for Media in New York.
Ithaca College alum David Muir ’95 was on hand to introduce Walters, who has been his mentor at ABC, where he is the current anchor of “ABC World News Tonight.”
Muir praised Walters as a “groundbreaker” in the broadcast news industry. Walters was the first woman to co-host NBC’s “Today” show, and in 1976 became the first female network news anchor as co-host of the “ABC Evening News.” While Walters is undoubtedly an important figure for young women in the industry, Muir stressed that she has been an inspiration for young men as well.
For the guidance she gave him when he started at ABC, Muir thanked Walters.
“I’m grateful to Barbara for the gifts along the way, and for the encouragement along the way,” said Muir.
Speaking to an audience that included industry professionals as well as students from the Park School, Walters offered advice to aspiring journalists, emphasizing the importance of the first question asked in setting the tone for an interview. She also recommended interviewers ask subjects about their childhoods, saying that it “unlocks the key to his or her personality.”
Looking back on a career of interviewing high-profile figures, including world leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, Walters found room for levity.
“I have been fortunate to interview many world leaders, celebrities, news makers,” said Walters. “I even made a ‘Ninja Turtle’ cry. It was one of the highlights of my career.”
Turning to the topic of mentorship, Walters implored those in the audience to help the younger generation.
“Think of who inspired you, who took the time to show you the ropes, whom did you ask for audience,” said Walters. “Now it’s your turn.”
Like Walters, Jessica Savitch was a pioneering woman in the broadcast news industry. She graduated from Ithaca College in 1968 with a degree in television-radio and went on to a successful career in broadcast journalism, serving as a Washington correspondent for NBC News, anchoring the Saturday edition of “NBC Nightly News” and hosting the “Frontline” documentary series on PBS.
After her untimely death in an automobile accident in 1983, the Jessica Savitch Communications Scholarship was established through gifts from her family, associates and friends to support Park School students who demonstrate excellence, achievement and promise in the field of broadcast journalism. The award was created to serve as a continuing recognition of Savitch’s pioneering spirit, professional dedication and overall influence on broadcast journalism.
Reflecting on that spirit and influence, Walters paid tribute to Savitch.
“The fact that I persevered and succeeded in what was a man’s world – the world of broadcasting news – gives me great pride,” said Walters. “It’s not any particular interview I did, though that’s nice. It’s that maybe I made it easier for the next woman – that is my legacy and it is also Jessica’s.”
Muir and Diane Sawyer, whom he succeeded as “ABC World News Tonight” anchor in September of 2014, were the inaugural recipients of the Savitch Award in 2015.