Broadcast veterans make Impact

By Shardae Smith

As the world of journalism expands into a more modern form, two prestigious journalists were recognized for their outstanding past contributions to the industry while guests mingled, networked and celebrated their achievements.

The 8th Annual Columbia College Chicago Impact Awards, held at the Chicago Firehouse, 1401 S. Michigan Ave., honored veteran broadcast journalists Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson on Nov. 9.

The event celebrated achievements made by the Chicago news team, who dominated local news ratings in the ’70s and ’80s on WBBM-TV channel 2, a CBS-owned station.

Held in Los Angeles since 2003, the award ceremony was brought home to Chicago this year.

According to Vice President of Institutional Advancement Eric Winston the award ceremony was moved from LA to Chicago because the college wanted to broaden the concept and focus on people in the area where Columbia offers degrees.

The Impact Awards honor Chicagoans who have made significant contributions to the arts, entertainment and media professions while maintaining the work and loyalty ethics Chicago is known for, according to Winston.

“What’s important about [the awards] is we honor people who haven’t lost that Chicago swagger,” said Columbia President Warrick L. Carter. “The two of them have really set the bar in the field of broadcast journalism. Both of them have been game changers for nearly half a century.”

After dominating the local news landscape for more than a decade, Kurtis and Jacobson went on to separate, successful media and entertainment careers.

Jim Belushi, Jeremy Piven and Jeff Garlin are past Impact Awards recipients.

After cocktails and light refreshments were served, Carter presented the night’s honorees with their awards, which look like duct tape.

“What a great reward, duct tape,” Kurtis said as the crowd laughed. “Thank you… I should have expected it from Columbia.”

After watching a tribute reel of the news veterans’ careers, Jacobson said the grey hair he has now hasn’t taken away from his legacy, but has added to it.

He had a message for the college’s faculty.

“[This is] a whole new time, [with] whole new responsibilities and a whole new objective,” Jacobs said. “The bottom line is, hang on to—please students of yours who are continuing to study to hopefully get into journalism—the principles of the business. This country cannot afford to turn journalism into entertainment.”

Staying on the topic of journalism’s future, Kurtis reflected on the industry’s job losses because of the recent recession.

“In 2008, journalism … in both print and TV lost 17,000 jobs across the country,” Kurtis said. “In 2007, it lost 16,000 [jobs]. So the challenge for Columbia is to be flexible, change course[s] a little bit and prepare its graduates, as you are doing, for the new world.”

Kurtis said it can be done with convergence and continuing to teach the skills of writing and speaking. He said Columbia students are on the correct path.

According to Jacobson, the journalism industry must find a way to attract an audience that will satisfy the demand for profits.

“We can’t let go of our initial and primary responsibility, which is to inform intelligently,” Jacobson said.

During summer 2010, it was announced the two would return to CBS 2 and take over as anchors for the station’s 6 p.m. weeknight newscast.

“A lot of you don’t know, but this [is] my second time living here in Chicago,” Carter said. “When I lived here before, I always looked forward to channel 2, so this [is] kind of [a] deja vu for me to have them back.”

Kurtis also had solo success with his award-winning A&E TV programs, “Cold Case Files” and “Investigative Reports” and was featured on AT&T Internet commercials in 2009.

Known for his investigative reporting, Jacobson dressed as a homeless man in 1991 and spent 48 hours living on Chicago streets as hidden cameras recorded his experience. Jacobson also landed an exclusive interview in 1992 with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Jacobson said he and Kurtis have talked for years about using the values of age and experience as salable commodities in the TV market. With the opportunity CBS has provided, they are testing it out.

“That warm feeling from people who just come up and smile and say, ‘I grew up with you guys, how great it is to see you again,’ it really is kind of a shock and I’m happy to see you again,” Kurtis said.