Somber tones, and attacks on Rupert Murdoch, at Overseas Press Club awards gala

Joao Silva. (Dan Rosenblum)
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Last night, photographer Andre Liohn won an award from the Overseas Press Club for his collection of photography from Libya this year, particularly in Misrata.

Misrata is where photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed last year, and when Liohn spoke to the black-tie crowd that had gathered for the Press Club's annual awards ceremony on the 36th Floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Columbus Circle, he echoed the tone of much of the evening.

He remembered sitting with Marie Colvin, out on assignment in the Middle East, in an apartment around this time last year. He'd just had a scare in the field.

"'Hey Marianne, I'm lucky that I came back,'" he remembered telling Colvin, the veteran Sunday Times conflict reporter.

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"Let's do a pasta."

They opened a package of spaghetti that another of the evening's awardees, The New York Times' C.J. Chivers, had left behind.

“We did this horrible spaghetti," Liohn said. "Marie said ‘Man, how old are you?’ I said, ’Oh, I’m 35.’ I was 40. And she said, ‘there is no other end for people like us.’"

"And she was right in her case. And that was happening just, like, a few days after Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington died in Misrata, and it was very, very bad.”

Colvin died in Syria in February, when government shelling hit the compound in which she was staying with another reporter.

The 450 people gathered, in black tie, for the evening's program sat at tables according to news organization or corporate sponsors, which included Ford, Google, FedEx and Pepsi. Some of the winners came to the dinner straight from postings in Albania, North Korea, or South Sudan.

Though much of the program was somber in tone, given the number of high-profile journalists who have died in the field over the last year, there was still some room for levity, mostly at the expense of the embattled News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, who had earlier testified before a British parliamentary investigation into British press ethics and phone-hacking.

“We didn’t do anything to compromise our principles or anything else,” CNN founder Ted Turner said, when he accepted a lifetime achievement award.

Turner stopped before taking the time to add another chapter to his decades-old rivalry with Murdoch.

“I mean, unlike Rupert Murdoch, I’m not being indicted for anything,” he said.

(Actually, Murdoch is not himself being indicted for anything.)

The audience laughed and applauded as he continued. “The last time I got in trouble with the law was 50 years ago with a speeding ticket,” he said.

Several Wall Street Journal employees also poked a little fun at the embattled News Corp head: It was announced the Wall Street Journal’s Germany Bureau Chief Matthew Karnitschnig would accept an award with several colleagues, but instead stood on stage alone. “Thank you very much, my colleagues are actually preparing their parliamentary testimonies.”

The annual gala, in its 73rd year, is meant to distinguish the work of foreign reporting agencies in covering conflict zones, disasters or other global stories. The Associated Press, which won three photojournalism awards, was the top winner and was followed by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The New Yorker, ABC News, WNET, and Bloomberg Businessweek, which followed with two awards a piece.

Of the night’s 27 awards, more than half came from tsunami-ravaged Japan or Middle Eastern countries impacted by the Arab Spring.

Two of the A.P. awards went to photographer David Guttenfelder for covering Japan’s nuclear disaster and for slices of life in North Korea, where the A.P. opened a bureau in January.

It also featured a new series of online entries, whose top awards went to Foreign Policy and GlobalPost.

Harold Evans, editor-at-large for Reuters, is also the former editor of the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, and earlier in the day had attacked Murdoch in a column for the Daily Beast. He did so again, bringing together the Murdoch and mourning themes that had come up in the course of the evening.

“We honor them best by resolving to keep faith in ourselves with their best aspirations by exemplary dedication, and we should be forthright in rebuking those who do not," he said. "Every time a reporter slants the news, every time a reporter hacks into a phone mail or an e-mail... allows the unplanting face of truth to suffer wrong, he betrays the memory of Anthony and Marie and Chris and Tim.”

Evans introduced New York Times photographer Joao Silva, who in 2010 lost both legs after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan. He wordlessly walked on two prosthetic legs to light a tall candle on the stage in memory.

To commemorate Colvin's career, Stony Brook University School of Journalism is memorializing the Long Island-native, whose family was in the room, by launching the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting which will help train and sponsor international reporters.

The full list of winners is available here.