Scripps, who was the scion of the well-known Scripps Howard publishing empire, was a graduate of the Nevada school of journalism and started the dinners to honor the memory of the famous dean of the journalism department, the late Al Higginbotham, or “Higgy” as he was more well known.
Right after World War II this writer was in a number of the journalism classes at UNR along with Scripps and our favorite question to him, since none of us really knew where our future career paths would take us, was “Where will you go for a job, Ted?”
In addition to the scholarship award, the annual Scripps dinner always featured a speaker of national significance and this year’s choice was no exception in the person of Leonard Downie, Jr. Currently a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, Downie also carries the more prestigious title of vice president at large of the Washington Post. He earned the latter position because he spent a total of 44 years at the Post where he rose to the office of executive editor from 1991 to 2008. During that term of executive editor, the Post won a total of 25 Pulitzer prizes.
He started off at the paper as an investigative reporter, served as editor on the local and national news staffs, was a London correspondent and a managing editor. Among American newspapers, the Washington Post is best known for the Watergate scandal that brought President Richard Nixon down, due mainly to the efforts of the two reporters who were the founding fathers of investigate reporting, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
The conclusion of Downie’s talk was that those entering today’s journalism field will be so much better informed when it comes to research due mainly to the easy access of the Internet and the time saving method of punching up relevant information regarding any story upon which they might be working. He also noted that we are living in an “age of information” that feeds us pertinent data in a number of ways. He said he believed print was still important since it goes beyond the “sound bite” type of TV and radio and wireless reports. To really get in-depth coverage one has to still rely on the newspaper and newsmagazines, particularly when it comes to analysis.
Downie is one of those journalistic types who speaks from personal experience when it comes to covering some of the greatest news stories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Among them, including Watergate, was Jonestown, the Falkland Islands military action, many aspects of the Cold war, 9/11, the Iraq wars, the Afghanistan war and the daily going-ons in the hectic city of Washington, D.C. All of that with supervising some 500 reporters as managing editor.
Like most famous journalists Downie is also a prolific book writer and his efforts in that arena include five books: “The New Muckrakers,” “The News about the News,” “American Journalism in Peril,” “The Rules of the Game” and and co-author of “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” with Columbia University Professor Michael Schudson.
Prior to Downie’s talk, the opening remarks for the evening were given by Dean Jerry Ceppos of the journalism school and Milton Glick, president of UNR. They were followed by members of the Scripps family presenting scholarships to Juan Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Jonathan Moore and Michael Stefansson. Kara LaPoint was the internship recipient. As he has for the past two decades, former UNR president gave the toast to Ted Scripps.
Following the Downie talk and the questions and answer period, Dean Ceppos presented the speaker with the traditional Western Stetson hat, which Downie immediately donned.
As mentioned above the late Ted Scripps, went on to a distinguished career in the family business as he worked at United Press International (UPI) and the Scripps-Howard newspaper publishing empire that had been founded by his grandfather, E.W. Scripps. After a solid career of working “hands on” at several of the UPI's major bureaus, he became vice president and assistant secretary of Scripps-Howard newspaper, headquartered in Cincinnati, in 1965 and later was named a director of the company in 1974. He passed away in 1987 at the age of 57 while on assignment for the company,
Among the many famous speakers who have appeared at the Scripps function are Charles Kuralt of CBS, John Siegenthaler of USA Today, Helen Thomas of UPI, Allen H. Neuharth of Gannet publishing, Osborne Elliott of Newsweek, Frank McCulloch of McClatchy newspapers, Frank H. Bartholomew of UPI, Dr. William L. Rivers of Stanford University, syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, James Fallows of Atlantic Monthly, Frank Deford of Vanity Fair, Linda Wertheimer of National Public Radio, Paul Steiger of the Wall Street Journal, David Broder of the Washington Post and Edith Lederer of the Associated Press.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.