Against a backdrop of attacks on media and spread of “fake news” on social networks, the search for truth by journalists matters more than ever before, says Bill Ritter, anchor of ABC7 Eyewitness News. Honored as the Allen B. DuMont Broadcaster of the Year, Ritter used the opportunity at Montclair State University to give voice to challenges facing the news industry today.
“When I first became enthralled and captivated by the possibilities of journalism,” said Ritter, recalling his entry into reporting during the Vietnam War and civil rights movement, “it was a great time to be a reporter, a great time to be searching for the truth…It’s even more important now because the whole world for searching for the truth and reporting the facts is under assault like never before.”
The prestigious Allen B. DuMont award is presented annually to leading journalists and reporters by the School of Communication and Media. Ritter’s visit on December 1 showcased the University’s new state-of-the-art broadcast and media production facilities, with students producing an interview with Ritter for their weekly magazine show, Carpe Diem, and filming the awards ceremony.
For Elizabeth Clifford, a senior who works nights as a sports intern for ABC7, the event held special meaning as she had the opportunity to both learn about Ritter’s distinguished career and participate in the broadcast, operating for the first time a robotic camera during the lecture in Presentation Hall. She slowly panned a full house of students attending the special Colloquium.
“We need people,” Ritter told the aspiring journalists, “who are committed to a process of not only posting their opinions but posting verified facts and information.”
In an interview for Carpe Diem with Marc Rosenweig, retired television and digital media professor, the news anchor pushed back on the spread of so-called fake news.
“There are avenues and processes in place that are fairly strict about what’s true, what’s publishable, what’s reportable and what we’re able to communicate,” Ritter said. “Social media has changed the paradigm and changed how we communicate with each other. I don’t think it is always for the good.”
Ritter’s career spans more than 40 years, both in print and television. He was a reporter and editor for the San Diego County edition of The Los Angeles Times, and has worked as a correspondent for the ABC news magazine 20/20 and co-host of Good Morning America Sunday. For the past 18 years, he’s been co-anchor at ABC7, the most-watched local television station in the nation.
His role as an anti-war activist during Vietnam – and being involved in the most important public discussion of that time – ultimately led him to pursue a career in journalism after he was expelled for leading a student protest at San Diego State University, a semester shy of graduating.
Ritter eventually earned a diploma, graduating in 2016 from The New School in NYC. The experience has inspired his efforts to help other adults who opted out of college receive the assistance they need to go back to school. “You’re never too old to try something new,” he said. “You’re never too old to change the narrative of your life.”
Asked about the claims of sexual misconduct against some of the biggest names in the news industry, Ritter said, “We are seeing a sea change of how relationships in the workplace will be dealt with and how they will be accepted or not accepted. I hope that it ends up making a healthier, more accepting and more progressive work environment.”
Established in 1985, the University’s Broadcaster of the Year Award is named for Allen B. DuMont, a pioneer in television technology. Previous honorees include NBC anchor Lester Holt, Inside Edition anchor Deborah Norville and WCBS-TV anchor Kristine Johnson.