Every year, SPJ’s Sigma Delta Chi Awards recognize the best work in American journalism from the past year. The prestigious awards go to journalists from all types of media performing all types of journalism. There are categories for print, television, radio, and online news. There are awards for beat reporters, feature reporters, academics, and editorial writers.
In this issue of Quill, we showcase the work that won this year’s SDX Awards. We do this partly to pay tribute to the journalists who have worked so hard in the past year to serve their readers, listeners and viewers.
But the descriptions throughout this issue also serve as journalism models for the rest of us. The cover of Quill promises “blueprints for excellence,” and that’s exactly what each of the examples provides. As editor, this is the third SDX Awards issue of Quill that I’ve put together, and I’ve noticed some common qualities to the award-winning entries each year – hard work, strong writing, and a dedication to truth and service – that could improve our work, as well.
The pages of this issue are filled with examples of journalistic excellence – stories that will make you cry; stories that might make you fear; stories that will teach you lessons; and stories that will leave you better than when you started them.
It’s no surprise that much of this year’s award-winning work is coverage from the Sept. 11 attacks. On that day, journalists across the country – but especially those in New York and Washington, D.C. – did extraordinary work under extraordinary circumstances. Never before has there been such an intense need for information of unfolding events; millions of Americans spent that day watching live television coverage, checking for online updates or reading through extra print editions of their local newspapers.
Many journalists were in harm’s way as they scrambled to piece together stories from the chaos following the initial attacks. Several newsrooms in New York were evacuated, which made it even more remarkable that those journalists were able to do their work. Despite all of these obstacles, judges in several of the deadline categories noted that many of the entries were able to provide complete coverage that put the events into context.
But as the initial shock and horror of Sept. 11 began to fade, journalists were able to look at the larger issues surrounding the attacks. In “Why They Hate Us,” Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria examines the intense hatred toward Americans that has grown in much of the Middle East. In “How We’ve Changed,” Geraldine Sealey from ABCNEWS.com looks at the long-term impacts Sept. 11 had on the personal lives of many Americans.
Some of the winning work ran before the terrorist attacks, and they serve as a chilling reminder that the country had been warned about the al Qaeda threat. USA Today’s Jack Kelley and reporters from Newsweek covered Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network as early as February, looking at the world of suicide bombers and terrorist training camps.
Much of this year’s award-winning coverage is related to the Sept. 11 attacks, but there were many of other examples of extraordinary work. Dateline NBC and NBC News followed the story of a group of teenage, Sudanese refugees as they moved to the United States and adapted to American life (Page 40). ESPN ran a heartbreaking piece about coaches who sexually abuse child athletes (Page 49). The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel did an in-depth analysis of the impacts of the tourism industry on the local economy (Page 18), and The Oregonian followed the pressures of a single mother struggling to raise three autistic daughters (Page 36).
Every one of these winning entries offer something that can be learned and applied to the work we do every day.
In this issue, we’ve divided up the award winners based on the type of reporting that was involved; the investigative categories are all together, the feature categories are all together, and so on. Each section is introduced by a professional who helped judge one of the categories in that section. These introductions offer some insight from the people who selected this year’s winners.
As you read through each of these sections, I hope that you’re able to use them as blueprints for your own work.
Jeff Mohl is the editor of Quill.