When you invite a bunch of journalists to your place for a reception, you have to expect them to do what those attending the 16th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards ceremony did at Ethel Kennedy's Hickory Hill home last night.

Snoop.

The guests started to amble up the long driveway a little before 6 o'clock, usually in twos. After receiving greetings and name tags, the guests headed for the patio bar and then looked out over the rolling lawn to the large pool and its house. The more brazen strolled down the hill to peek inside the poolside house. Inside, the walls were covered like pages of a Kennedy family scrapbook: Ethel Kennedy playing tennis, the kids joking around, weddings.

Up on the patio, guests congratulated each other and talked about their award-winning projects that dealt with problems of the disadvantaged. Lee Luse, a producer at KTCA-TV in St. Paul, Minn., was there to accept a third-place citation for "The Legacy of Baby Doe."

Luse said she had a personal interest in the issue of life-support systems. "The main reason I did this story was because my father died recently. My whole family had to make the decision about life support. I feel like I'm here tonight for my dad."

George Getschow of The Wall Street Journal, accompanied by his wife Mary, was on hand to accept a first prize for "Dirty Work." Getschow had gone to Texas and Louisiana for three weeks as a "down and out" laborer; he then wrote about the "appalling" work conditions he experienced.

As the evening moved closer to the awards presentation, the patio filled up with about 120 guests, causing three of the Kennedy dogs to roam in and out of the house nervously, one of them an enormous black Newfoundland with a limp, who would plop himself down occasionally on a guest's foot.

Everyone was invited into the living room, where the awards were presented. Peter Karl, a reporter, and Bonnie VanGilder, a producer, of Chicago's WMAQ-TV, accepted the grand prize for best overall coverage in 1983 of the problems of the disadvantaged. Karl described the broadcast -- "Beating Justice: A Special Report" -- as a story about police brutality.

Other first-prize awards went to Patrick Cassidy of Chicago's WMAQ Radio for "School Says . . . You're Retarded"; Doug Marlette of The Charlotte Observer for editorial cartoons; and photographer April Saul of The Philadelphia Inquirer for "The Gift of Family."

Sen. Edward Kennedy seemed to sum up the evening when he said: "If Robert Kennedy were alive today he would be very much involved in the whole issue of the nuclear arms race, he'd be very much involved in the issues of civil rights and civil liberties . . . and tonight, speaking for the members of the Kennedy family, all of us want to pay a very special tribute to those that have won the awards this evening."