Futrell Journalism Award Winner

June 1, 2007
Sack: questioning what's lost when in-depth reporting is eclipsed by new media

Sack: questioning what's lost when in-depth reporting is eclipsed by new media. Les Todd

Ignore the hoopla about blogs and other "new media." Despite their struggles, print newspapers remain your best source for thoughtful analysis and probing investigations. That was the message of "Life as an Endangered Species: Reflections of a Newspaper Reporter," a lecture delivered in February by Kevin Sack '81, the winner of the 2006-07 Futrell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications and Journalism. Sack, then with the Los Angeles Times, is now a national correspondent for The New York Times. (For an edited version of Sack's talk, see Under the Gargoyle)

Even as print newspapers are shrinking their staffs, closing their foreign bureaus, and eliminating other newsgathering resources, their role in maintaining and strengthening a free society is becoming increasingly important, Sack said. The new media are not picking up the old media's job of reporting the news "fully and fairly."
Sack, who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for revealing fatal design flaws in Marine Harrier jets, noted that John Carroll, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, "made an informed estimate that at least 80 percent of America's news originates with newspapers." Yet newspapers are shrinking their staffs and newsgathering sources at an ever-increasing rate. The L.A. Times has won thirteen Pulitzers since 2000, but its Monday-Saturday circulation has declined by 27 percent over that same period.

In addition to warning about the perils of a newspaper-less future, Sack talked about his career in journalism--a career that has included covering four presidential campaigns, countless natural disasters, and the attempts of a gay couple to become surrogate parents. He cited a desire to tell others' stories and an incorrigible sense of curiosity as the chief reasons he became a journalist. "My thirteen-year-old daughter even accuses me, usually with a roll of her eyes, of interviewing her friends," he said.

The Futrell award was established in 1999 by Ashley B. Futrell Jr. '78, the publisher of the Washington (N.C.) Daily News, as a tribute to his father Ashley B. Futrell Sr. '33. The award, administered by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, is presented annually to a Duke alumna or alumnus who has excelled in the fields of journalism and communications. Past winners have included Clay Felker '51, Hon. '98, the founding editor of New York magazine and a former editor of Esquire and the Village Voice; Judy Woodruff '68, Hon. '98, senior anchor for CNN; and Charlie Rose '64, J.D. '68, host of the Charlie Rose Show.