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SPJ names three Fellows of the Society
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to name Albert P. Smith, Jr., Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Tim Russert as Fellows of the Society.
Being named a Fellow of the Society is the highest honor SPJ bestows upon a journalist for extraordinary contributions to the profession.
Albert P. Smith, Jr.
After Army service in World War II, Albert P. Smith, Jr., began his journalism career as a copy boy at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. He soon became a writer and editor there, but his addiction to alcohol led to the end of those jobs.
In 1962, Smith’s life changed for the better when his friend took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. At the time, Smith had been working as an editor at The News-Democrat in Russellville, Ky. Smith sobered up, married, had three children and bought the newspaper.
Shortly after, Smith started the Harpeth Herald in Brentwood, Tenn., and bought several other Kentucky weeklies. All of his publications, which held tightly to the concept of community journalism, won several journalism awards.
During three of those award-winning years, Al Cross, now director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, worked for Smith. Cross said Smith showed him how to report well while keeping a good rapport with sources, even when those sources weren’t initially willing to talk.
“He (Smith) taught me how to write about controversial people in a way that allowed you to hold your journalistic head high and still look them in the eye and exchange a greeting the next day,” Cross wrote in his recommendation letter.
Although Smith’s career focused heavily on print journalism, he made extraordinary contributions to broadcast media, specifically public television. In 1974, he and Kentucky Educational Television created “Comment on Kentucky,” a half-hour public affairs program that quickly evolved from an interview format into a roundtable discussion among reporters about government, politics, business and other topics of interest. Smith hosted the program for 33 years, longer than any other host of a public affairs show in public broadcasting.
Smith has been called “Kentucky’s leading public citizen” for his involvement in an assortment of causes, including the creation of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which helps rural journalists set program agendas in their communities through solid reporting on large issues with local impact, such as education, the environment and health care.
At the age of 81, Smith is still very active and dedicated to the journalism community.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault is currently working as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. She recently left her post as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent, which she had held since 1999, to pursue independent projects.
Hunter-Gault was the chief national correspondent for “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS from 1983 to 1997. During her time with PBS, she won two Emmys and a Peabody for excellence in broadcast journalism for her work on the series “Apartheid’s People.” She also received the 1986 Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
Hunter-Gault joined the New York Times in the late 1960s as a metropolitan reporter specializing in coverage of the urban African-American community. She won several awards during her 10 years there, including the National Urban Coalition Award for Distinguished Urban Reporting and The New York Times’ Publisher’s Award. She has also been published in The New York Times Magazine, Saturday Review, The New York Times Book Review, Essence and Vogue.
Hunter-Gault was born in Due West, S.C., and made civil rights history as the first African-American woman to enter the University of Georgia, where she received a B.A. in journalism in 1962. Her book, “In My Place,” a memoir about her experiences at the University of Georgia, was published in 1992.
The late Tim Russert, who is best known as managing editor and moderator of “Meet the Press,” served the public brilliantly through his unmatched coverage of American politics. He joined NBC News in 1984 and took the lead of “Meet the Press” in 1991, hosting the show longer than anyone else.
In a press release issued by SPJ at the time of Russert’s death on June 13, 2008, SPJ President Clint Brewer shared his thoughts on the journalism legend.
“Tim Russert is one of the giants of American journalism, and he left us too early. He was a personal inspiration to me, and his work as a journalist helped me understand politics,” Brewer said. “Every episode of ‘Meet the Press’ was a lesson for the country.”
Russert holds many awards for his reporting on American politics. His Election 2000 interviews with George W. Bush and Al Gore won the Radio and Television Correspondents’ highest honor, the Joan S. Barone Award and the Annenburg Center’s Walter Cronkite Award. Also in 2000, Russert received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence for his interview with Senator John McCain.
“Tim’s commitment to being thoroughly prepared and always asking the tough questions made him a pillar and undeniable force in the journalism community,” said Betsy Fischer, executive producer of “Meet the Press,” after hearing Russert was selected as one of this year’s Fellows. “He would have been deeply honored to receive this award that recognizes the very aspects of journalism that inspired him to give his best every day.”
Russert was not only successful in his career; he was also an award-winning father. He was named “Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day Committee in 1995 and in 2001 by the National Fatherhood Initiative. Parents magazine honored him as “Dream Dad” in 1998.
At the time of his death, Russert lived in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Maureen, and son, Luke.
SPJ Fellow nominations are open to all members of the journalism profession. These individuals will be recognized during a dinner Saturday, Sept. 6 at the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Atlanta.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.