- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

Perhaps only at a journalism awards dinner would the evening’s “entertainment” be a lengthy essay on the permutations of contemporary journalism read by New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier.

This was a sermon from the podium mount, a tribute of sorts to the man — the late writer-editor Michael Kelly, killed while traveling in Iraq — in whose name the evening’s event was held. The occasion was the third annual Michael Kelly Award night, sponsored by the Atlantic Media Company, to honor a writer or editor who, in the words of Atlantic’s Chairman David Bradley, pursues Mr. Kelly’s same “fearless expression and pursuit of truth.”

Some of the brightest lights in the trade were present along with members of the Kelly family to hear Mr. Wieseltier speak of how Mr. Kelly’s work exemplified “journalism’s humanity” — and see the $25,000 prize given to New York Times reporter Sharon LaFraniere who is based in Johannesburg. The citation notes how her “reporting provides a window into African culture that is both unflinching and respectful, dispassionate and intimate.”

In acceptance remarks, she said what she tried to do was immerse herself in the lives of people she met there, giving by way of example the role of women “who carry two and three times as much weight in water as men. … I tried to do and feel what they were feeling.”

Sharing in the honors were finalists Kurt Eichenwald, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, all of the New York Times, as well as Chris Rose of the Times-Picayune, and Cam Simpson of the Chicago Tribune. All six journalists were hailed for articles published during 2005 on issues of local, national and international significance.

Mr. Bradley referred to the gathering as a meeting of “the tribe” that reconvenes each year to be “achingly reminded” of how the award’s namesake “is missed.” Mr. Kelly was an editor for two of Atlantic Media’s main publications.

What of the profession’s tendency to offer itself substantial pats on the back from time to time? “If we don’t, then I don’t know who will,” replied former ABC-TV broadcaster Ted Koppel, now with Discovery Channel and authoring a newspaper column part time. “Why not?” said Gwen Ifill, former newspaper reporter now with PBS-TV. “People everywhere else are busy running us down.”

— Ann Geracimos

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