Ball in St.Petersburg awards prominent journalists

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Lester Holt were honored at the Poynter Institute’s annual Bowtie Ball.


Lester Holt and I at Poynter's annual Ball.

Madeleine Katz, Online Editor

While sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring, I refreshed my emails with only the expectation of more emails popping up under the “promotions” tab, but instead, an unexpected email came up under “primary.”  It was an invitation to the Poynter Institute’s annual Bowtie Ball on Dec 8. where Arthur Sulzberger Jr. from the New York Times and Lester Holt from NBC Nightly News and Dateline would be honored.

Over the summer I had interned with a new fact-checking company at the Poynter Institute, called MediaWise. MediaWise is a partnership with Poynter Institute, Politifact, and Stanford University that is backed by Google and is geared towards helping teenagers decipher facts from misinformation online. In the email, I was asked to represent the project onstage at the ball. I quickly accepted, excited to hear two prominent journalists speak, especially since Lester Holt’s coverage of the first presidential debate of 2016 was what sparked my interest in journalism as a career.

It was held at Tradewinds Island Resort Pavillion in St.Petersburg which is close to the location of the Poynter Institute. Over six hundred guests sat at candle-lit round tables in front of the stage to eat dinner with slideshows displaying Poynter’s current projects and recent events. At the event, there were opportunities for the guests to participate in auctions and donate money with the proceeds going to various projects at Poynter.

Several videos were shown, including one about MediaWise and another about the importance of free press and how journalism impacts today’s society.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the chairman of the New York Times, was interviewed on stage after he was presented with the Distinguished Service to Journalism award. He spoke about many topics, such as the readers’ angry reactions to the newspaper’s decision to print copies in color instead of black and white, which happened to be one of the newspaper’s top complaints.

Shortly afterwards, Lester Holt was given the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In his interview, one of the many topics he discussed was how his experience in high school impacted his career.

“I was a nerd who really wanted to be a disc jockey and I wanted to be in radio, so when other kids were out playing I was sitting in my bedroom with a record player, a newspaper, and a tape recorder, practicing my announcing skills and talking up records. In high school I can’t remember how it came about, but I was going to be the morning announcement guy. So as people took their places in their class, I’d make the announcement and I really thought it would be cool to make it sound like a radio broadcast. So I would come on and say, ‘Good morning it’s 8:30. I’m Lester Holt. Here’s what’s happening. The Spanish Club will be meeting at 3:00 in room H1,’ and I would just do this whole thing and at the end I would go, ‘And that’s what’s happening at 8:38. You’re up to date.’ I’ve been using the same schtick since then.”

To conclude the night, Lester Holt performed two songs on the bass with the band. It was a night of appreciation of journalism and had the largest turnout for a Poynter Ball. Over $100,000 was raised in donations for the Poynter Institute, and two honorable journalists spoke about their personal experiences in an industry that is so essential to a democracy.