The Overseas Press Club Awards have always been about recognizing the exercise of press freedoms abroad under duress, but Thursday night’s awards dinner had undertones of journalistic anxiety here at home. To begin with, ousted Wall Street Journal managing editor Marcus Brauchli was at the paper’s table, sitting next to his former boss, Paul Steiger, who retired as managing editor of the Journal a year ago and was set to give the evening’s keynote. Across the table was Robert Thomson, Brauchli’s old friend from their Asia days, and the News Corp-appointed overseer calling the shots at the Journal these days. All three declined comment on recent turmoil at the paper, but seemed relatively at ease.
Steiger, now head of the new investigative organization Pro Publica, focused in his speech on the state of international reporting, but didn’t miss the opportunity to honor his chosen successor. Mentioning his 16 years heading the Journal, he praised his former colleagues but named just one — Brauchli — to audience applause.
And one of the Journal reporters accepting an award for reporting on the Indian economy pointedly referred to a tradition at the paper “that has enabled great journalism in the past and, it is hoped, in the future.”
Rupert Murdoch wasn’t the only press baron whose presence was felt, though. Bob Drogin, a national security and intelligence reporter for the Los Angeles Times who was honored for his book “Curveball,” recalled advice he got about appearing on “The Colbert Report.” Treat him as you would a drunk at a bar, Drogin said, avoiding a fight and trying to have fun.
“I think about that advice a lot at the L.A. Times,” he said, where new Tribune owner Sam Zell “reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s character, except he’s not trying to be funny.” He mourned “the scaling back of a world-class institution,” and said, “Instead of covering a disaster, we’re in danger of becoming one.”