Raspberry Gives Lovejoy Address at Colby College
Released November 12, 1999
William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist syndicated with The Washington Post Writers Group, was honored on Friday, November 12, at Colby College as the 47th Elijah Parish Lovejoy fellow. In his address at the Lovejoy Convocation, Raspberry criticized the way many journalists focus on conflict and controversy rather than telling positive stories. He also suggested journalists should have a hand in solving the problems they describe.
Raspberry, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary in 1994, received an honorary doctorate from Colby before addressing students, faculty and journalists. "In the spirit of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Mr. Raspberry wields a mighty pen on behalf of social justice and equality," said President William Cotter. "He writes with courage and conviction, even when he knows his message will get him in trouble with one group or another."
"Im not saying we shouldnt entertain and divert and gossip," said Raspberry in his speech. "But the reason for our special purpose is our necessity to the purpose of self-government. Our democracy as [Thomas] Jefferson and the framers understood cannot last long if the people are not informed. Thats what journalists are for. It is the basis of both of our specialness and of our special obligationmore special yet because it cannot be enforced. Our fixation on conflict, I believe, threatens to trivialize our specialness."
In 1994, The National Association of Black Journalists gave Raspberry its annual lifetime achievement award. In 1997, Washingtonian named him one of the 50 most influential journalists in the national press corps.
Raspberry is the author of Looking Backward at Us (1991), a collection of his columns. He teaches at Duke University, serving in the Knight Chair in Communications and Journalism.
"We and our editors will have to rethink our mindless focus on conflict as the overriding news value," Raspberry told listeners. "Of course conflict is a story. Of course our readers need to know what has gone wrong. But we also need to get our newsrooms interested in what works, and how it might be made to work better."
Colby established the Lovejoy award in 1952 for an editor, reporter or publisher who has contributed to the nations journalistic achievement. It is named for Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a native of Albion, Maine, and an 1826 graduate of Colby who is considered Americas first martyr to freedom of the press. He was slain Nov. 7, 1837, in Alton, Ill., defending his abolitionist newspaper against a pro-slavery mob.
The Lovejoy Fellow is chosen by a committee of distinguished newspaper editors chaired by Bill Kovach, director of The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Kovach previously said, "The important thing about Raspberry is that for a number of years now he has dealt with social issues in a color-blind fashion. He has the ability to speak about very complex issues plainly and with great common sense."
The selection committee includes Jane Healy, managing editor of The Orlando Sentinel; William Hilliard, former executive editor of The Oregonian; Ann Marie Lipinski, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune; Rena Pederson, editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News; Matthew V. Storin, editor of The Boston Globe; Colby President William Cotter and the chair of Colbys board of trustees.
Last years Lovejoy award was presented to columnist Ellen Goodman of The Boston Globe. Previous recipients include Katharine Graham and David Broder of The Washington Post, John Kifner and Anthony Lewis of The New York Times, David Halberstam, the late Murray Kempton of New York Newsday and the late Robert Maynard of The Oakland Tribune.