|ABC's Pierre Thomas|
GUEST BLOG—By Amy Cherry, RTDNA News--ABC Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas received one of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) most prestigious awards at Excellence in Journalism 2015 earlier this month. Thomas was awarded the 2015 John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award, which he dedicated to his mother.
“She always believed in me and made me believe I could do anything,” said Thomas.
Longtime friend Stan Nelson was there to see his accomplished friend receive the accolade.
“It’s a blessing, he’s a great man, he’s a great family man…and he loves his profession,” said Nelson. “I think what sets him aside from so many folks is his level of integrity.”
RTDNA Chair Amy Tardif said Thomas was picked “because of numerous astounding investigative stories that he has participated in and broken.”
The John F. Hogan Award is named after the founder and first president of RTNDA. Thomas joins a long list of journalism veterans who have received the John F. Hogan Away, including Walter Cronkite and Frank Stanton.
“You have to prove to uphold the excellence in journalism standards that the first president of RTNDA set forth for all of the rest of us to follow, and Pierre signifies that level of excellence,” Tardif said.
Prior to the award ceremony, Thomas and this year's Paul White Award winner, CBS’s Lesley Stahl, spent some time with journalists at an afternoon session, answering questions and sharing words of wisdom.
Thomas’s biggest scoop came in 2011 when he became one of the first journalists to know that Osama bin Laden had been killed. He explained how he got the story.
“I called a source, and said, ‘You got Bin Laden.” And the source asked, ‘How did you know that?’ Thomas made a few follow-up calls, and the news was confirmed.
The award-winning correspondent has also covered the September 11 terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. But it was the 9-11 attacks that remain engrained in his mind as the most important story he’s ever covered. He recalled a moment, several months after witnessing the carnage, where inside the privacy of his home, he finally broke down in an uncontrollable wave of emotions.
“I had not allowed myself to grieve like many others had done,” he said in his award reception speech. “So, we, those of us in this room, we care. We care about what we do.”
Thomas started his career at “The Roanoke Times & World News” and quickly moved on to work at the Washington Post in 1987 at the young age of 24. He joined ABC News in 2000 and reports for various programs, including: “World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”
Thomas told a crowd that, during a typical week, he’s working on one to two long-range pieces coupled with breaking news and beat coverage responsibilities.
Journalism has changed dramatically since Thomas began his career decades ago. “Call me old-fashioned, but I truly believe that our profession is important, is honorable, and can contribute to the public good--powerfully when unleashed,” he said.
Thomas admitted he’s dealing with multiple mobile and broadcast platforms now, but the basics of good journalism shouldn’t change. “I’m not tweeting crap until I’m comfortable that it’s the same caliber of reporting that I would put on television and online,” said Thomas.
“We need to develop sources; we need to work those sources, and we need to be sure what we’re reporting we believe as best we can that it is accurate,” he said. “No matter what the platform is, that’s what you have to do. We’re in a new age, but you still have to use old school tactics…if you want to remain viable.”
The session ended with Thomas and Stahl distilling advice for young, aspiring journalists.
“You will have in your mind that one story will make your career, and that’s not true. One story can destroy your career, [but] your career will be made by the body of your work [and] the consistency of your work,” he said.