RTNDA Changes on the Fly

Events overtook us," noted a reflective RTNDA Chairman Dave Busiek in a farewell address that followed a term of office that was extraordinary even for an organization whose members define themselves by events and change.

Busiek, whose tenure as Radio-Television News Directors Association chairman was longer than planned—a consequence of 9/11—told a ballroom full of journalists gathered for the group's Paul White Award Dinner how his proactive agenda turned necessarily reactive.

"Events continue to affect us", he said, "such as trying to hold a convention for journalists during a war."

The decision to cancel the Sept. 12, 2001, conference was academic: The dozens of news executives already in Nashville scrambled to return to their newsrooms despite the sudden cessation of air travel.

The convention then moved from a traveling show in a different city each year to one in conjunction—for at least five years—with the larger NAB show in Las Vegas. RTNDA put that first conjoined convention together in a matter of weeks.

Although RTNDA did not report final numbers, early returns showed growth over last year's 1,150 paid attendees, perhaps approaching 1,300. Busiek said the war did not lead to a deluge of last-minute cancellations; only about 30 opted out, slightly more than in an average year.

War hung over the convention from the start. RTNDA opened its business meeting with a resolution honoring NBC's David Bloom and other journalists who had died during the conflict. More would be dead before week's end.

Busiek credited RTNDA President Barbara Cochran and her staff with keeping the association on track, successfully rescheduling a fall Edward R. Murrow Awards ceremony and securing the NAB partnership.

RTNDA shifted on the fly once more for this year's convention. Quickly added sessions on war coverage were among the highlights even as the demands of war coverage forced some panelists to literally phone it in. Embedded AP radio reporter Ross Simpson, for instance, defined grace under pressure—even under fire—as he recounted an explosion "that rattled the ground I was sleeping on" and spoke of jumping from an armored Humvee under fire. "The term 'non-combatant' didn't mean anything," he said.

An added session on the technology of war reporting illustrated how war showcases the increased power of both the warrior and the messenger—although CNN's Dick Tauber joked that "the last three weeks have set back video quality."

When one attendee suggested that the sometimes fuzzy video could be "the Blair Witch Project
of TV news," Tauber said he prefers the term "edgy."

Associated Press tech expert Mike Palmer said the current crop of satellite and video phones "isn't going to replace your ENG truck."