[b]Click here for introduction to the awards and a menu of all categories.
Breaking News Reporting (1-100 Market or Network Syndication)
Winner: Kris Habermehl, Bernie Tafoya, Bob Roberts and the WBBM Newsradio 780 Staff
“The Mayday Escape”
It’s the kind of scenario seen mostly on fictional television shows or movies: convict overpowers guards and steals their weapons, igniting a tense and dangerous manhunt.
But for the staff of WBBM Newsradio, it wasn’t made-up entertainment, it was their job to track the unfolding situation when convicted criminal Robert Mayday escaped while in transport to a sentencing hearing. Mayday, a career criminal this time being sentenced for robbery, evaded recapture for 24 hours, drawing the attention of local, state and federal police — as well as national media. Recognizing the imperative nature of the situation, WBBM mobilized most of its news staff to cover the story from air and ground.
Reporter Bernie Tafoya broke the news of Mayday’s recapture live on air:
There was a chase, I was told briefly, just a few seconds ago as I got off the air. An official from the Bloomingdale police came up and told me that (Robert Mayday) had been involved in an accident after a chase involving police in West Chicago. Somebody must have spotted him. I know there have been police on various main roads. They’re lined up side by side, at least in Bloomingdale, facing in either direction, in case they’ve spotted him.
One judge called the reporting “gripping breaking-news journalism” and commended WBBM for reporting “in an enthralling way, without overdoing the sensationalism angle.”
Though in the end, no one was hurt during Mayday’s temporary freedom, eventually two state’s attorney’s investigators responsible for his transport were fired for dereliction of duty.
Investigative Reporting (1-100 Market or Network Syndication)
Winner: Doug Sovern, KCBS Radio
“Hard Times: California’s Broken Parole System”
Law enforcement officers no doubt dread the very thought of what happened March 21, 2009, in Oakland, Calif.: A “routine” traffic stop turns into a firefight, in this case with four officers and the suspected gunman dead. Relatives of the gunman — a convicted felon on parole — said he didn’t want to return to prison.
The killings by Lovelle Mixon were tragic and shattering for the Oakland community. But they highlighted deeper flaws and angst with the California parole system, as reporter Doug Sovern found in his five-part investigative series.
From Part 1:
Doug Sovern: State Attorney General Jerry Brown says once they’re released and the prison doors slam shut behind them, too many parolees simply vanish.
Jerry Brown: I know that a third of the parolees put into Oakland go AWOL. So I think there is a kind of lackadaisical attitude on the part of parole.
Doug Sovern: Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, represents California inmates and parolees. He says 2,000 parole agents can’t possibly keep track of 120,000 ex-cons at a time, one of the reasons California has one the highest recidivism rates in America.
More than just a series quoting state officials, criminologists and legal experts, Sovern’s reporting went in-depth with parole officers and recent parolees. He accompanied officers as they made address checks, using clear, engaging natural sound to put listeners at the scene with him.
In the aftermath of the shootings and Sovern’s reporting, the head of the Department of Corrections announced major structural overhauls to the state’s parole system.
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio1
Feature Reporting (1-100 Market or Network Syndication)
Winner: Ina Jaffe, Philip Bruce & Amy Walters, NPR
“California’s Three Strikes Law: 15 Years of Controversy”
In 2009, as protests and counter-protests over California’s voter-passed Proposition 8 — overturning gay marriage — made national headlines, NPR explored another controversial voter-approved measure: the three strikes law. Passed in 1994, the law came after intense lobbying from Mike Reynolds, whose daughter was murdered in a random robbery attempt by several repeat offenders. Fifteen years later, the law still garnered popular support, including from the governor, and weathered attempts to weaken it through new ballot measures.
But there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the law, as this three-part series highlighted. Originally meant to keep violent offenders with high likelihood to reoffend behind bars, the law has sent away re-offenders for 25 years to life for petty, nonviolent crimes. Through the series, listeners meet the families of those affected by three strikes — on both sides of the issue — and learn that prosecutors in different counties enforce and approach the law from various angles, leading to inconsistency in its legal application.
Ina Jaffe: In the 15 years since three strikes was passed, crime has declined significantly in California, as it has across the nation. Reynolds credits the law for that. Independent studies, however, have generally found that three strikes has not been a major factor. One thing that’s beyond dispute, though, is that the shocking crime that changed Mike Reynolds’ life years ago has also changed the lives of thousands of people in California.
In writing about winning a Sigma Delta Chi Award, Jaffe noted that the law is “a fixture, if not an icon, of California’s criminal justice system. It was gratifying to have the opportunity to attract the public’s attention to this issue and the questions it raises.”
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio2
Feature Reporting (101+ Market)
Winner: Sandy Hausman, Rick Mattioni & Connie Stevens, WVTF/RADIO IQ
“Hurricane Camille Remembered”
Hurricane Camille, which struck the Gulf of Mexico in 1969, may not have the same contemporary recognition as more modern hurricanes like Katrina and Andrew, but its fallout is no less memorable for those it affected. In some ways, time isn’t the only factor that led to its diminished recognition. Forty years ago, the nation was celebrating Woodstock. Today, the music is mostly what people remember. The hurricane that affected nearly all the Southeast and made deep and devastating landfall into rural Virginia is more of an afterthought — except to the countless people affected, including families of 150 people killed.
In a five-hour period, some areas of Virginia’s rural Nelson County received 30 inches of rain. Hillsides literally turned to torrents of raging mud and water.
Reporter Sandy Hausman and the WVTF team dedicated two weekday news segments and a 13-mintute weekend show feature to remembering the tragic and devastating impacts of Camille. Residents had almost no warning, and entire families were washed away and never found.
Sandy Hausman: Emergency crews were unable to reach desperate families, and to make matters worse, power went out. The phones were still working, and at 2 a.m. the family of 14-year-old Warren Raines got a call, warning them that the nearby Tye River was coming up fast, so he, his parents and five siblings decided to leave. … They thought it might be possible to walk to higher ground, but the geographic deck was stacked against them. … The water rose rapidly. The Raines family was caught in the currents.
Judges commended Hausman’s research that “touched a nerve that had been long buried, and perhaps helped the community to let go of a painful episode.”
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio3
Radio Documentaries (1-100 Market or Network Syndication)
Winner: Mary Kay Magistad, PRI’s “The World”
“Created in China”
It takes nothing more than a trip to any big-box retailer such as Wal-Mart to understand that China is “the factory of the world,” as the country is often called. Behind that ferocious export economy is an innovative and rich scientific cultural tradition, one that gave the world paper, printing processes, the compass and gunpowder. However, in the name of mass, cheap production, some advancement has been drastically lost to open, democratic Western nations.
That’s what Mary Kay Magistad explores in her five-part series for “The World,” for which she’s worked as East Asia correspondent in Beijing since 2003. But intense Western competition isn’t the only reason for this decline, Magistad reports. The modern Chinese political structure stifles innovation and the free exchange of ideas to an overwhelming extent, hurting technological advancement.
Mary Kay Magistad: China’s ruling Communist Party wants to build a more innovative economy. But it’s used to governing through fiats and five-year plans, and that’s kind of how it’s proceeding here. Over the past decade, it’s spent billions of dollars creating science parks and research labs, and giving researchers tight deadlines to come up with new ideas. Not surprisingly, results in the state sector have been a bit lackluster. Since this push started a decade ago, China has yet to release a new killer app, an invention or innovation so compelling that those outside of China can’t wait to use it. Some say, give it time; China’s come quite far, quite fast. Others say, there are still structural roadblocks on China’s path to innovation, and the government would do well to remove them, if it really wants innovation to take off.
In winning this award, Magistad notes that innovation and creativity topics still greatly fascinate her. “And I will no doubt be writing more about them in the future,” she said.
Judges called the series “an insightful treatment of generational change taking place in China.”
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio4
Radio Documentaries (101+ Market)
Winner: Kevin Hurd, KVSC-FM
“Cash, Credit and Savings While in College”
In 2008 and 2009, news audiences were saturated with stories of the economic crisis and recession and how the resulting issues affected families, homeowners and businesses. But with this deep coverage nationwide, the impact on some groups was overlooked. College students were left wondering how the credit crisis and Great Recession would affect them and their post-graduation job prospects.
KVSC Reporter Kevin Hurd noticed the coverage gap and set out to report “Cash, Credit and Saving While in College,” a two-part series giving college students ammunition and advice to stay ahead of the economic downturn during and after school. The series features interviews with economics professors, finance experts from Wells Fargo Financial and St. Cloud State University students.
Judges called Hurd’s work an “excellent job of focusing on an aspect of a story that’s of interest to a wide target audience. Storytelling provides information obtained by focused research, interviewing and fact gathering.” They also praised the technical aspects of the presentation in writing it was a “good mix of narration, interview sound and natural audio.”
Public Service in Radio Journalism (1-100 Market or Network Syndication)
Winner: Miguelina Diaz, Keith Tingman & Amon “AJ” Frazier, WNYC Radio Rookies
“This Is the South Bronx”
New York Public Radio, like many public and commercial outlets, makes a concerted effort to teach reporting and storytelling skills to youth, particularly in traditionally disadvantaged inner-city areas. The result of this series from teen reporters Miguelina Diaz, Keith Tingman and Amon “AJ” Frazier is a compelling and incisive look at the realities facing youth and their families in the Bronx’s Crotona Park East.
Radio Rookies staff spent eight months working with the youth reporters, teaching them sound reporting and digital audio techniques. The series, told individually by each youth reporter, reflects the personal stories contained within the dire statistics on life for teenagers in the South Bronx, an area that census data show includes 44 percent of residents below the federal poverty line.
From Diaz’s report:
Miguelina Diaz: I live in a society where you have to be tough and get fresh — that means sophisticated, with clothes, cars and phones, or people will look at you like you’re nothing. And this isn’t Manhattan, where a Gatorade costs freaking three dollars. This is the South Bronx, where a lot of people live on minimum wage jobs or, like my family, on welfare.
WNYC notes that it received great accolades from listeners who felt connected and informed by the Radio Rookies’ stories. One listener wrote: “It’s amazing to me (and to my kids) how articulate and authentic these kids are, and I realize that behind each of these stories there is an enormous amount of work to make it all sound so effortless. Congratulations to you and your team. How lucky for WNYC.”
Judges called the series “masterful” and commended the Radio Rookies staff and reporters for a product that was “brilliantly conceptualized and produced.”
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio5
Public Service in Radio Journalism (101+ Market)
Winner: Charles Lane, Naomi Starobin & Katie Davis, WSHU
“A Community Victimized in the Shadows”
By its own admission, the staff of WSHU was not equipped to handle ongoing and complex coverage of a murder and immigration issues in Patchogue, N.Y., and Suffolk County. Their single full-time reporter primarily covers county government. But cuts at Newsday, the region’s main news provider, left a gaping hole in the coverage of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant allegedly stabbed to death by seven teenagers in 2008.
Because of their reporting, WSHU found that area Latinos had repeatedly been victimized by teen gangs. Freedom of information requests by WSHU showed that police knew of the crimes but didn’t connect them to the Lucero murder.
Charles Lane: Rosando Molina says he was attacked and robbed by three young American men in November 2007. A month after that, Aprina Benevide was punched in the head by three white kids who then stole his necklace. A month after that Victor Bolivar was mugged and beaten by eight white kids. Bolivar says his beating was quite severe. After the incident he staggered home and passed out. When he woke up covered in blood his family demanded he go to the hospital. The most disturbing story we heard came from Mauro Lopez who claims to have been attacked four separate times, the worst was with a plastic baseball bat that broke his nose.
Lane traveled to the Ecuadorian town home to most Patchogue immigrants. His reporting showcased the deep emotional issues faced by immigrants’ home communities.
The station was rebuffed by county prosecutors and law enforcement for continually following “a nothing story.” But the reports continued, and two months into the series the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the county police department’s lack of response to racial-based attacks.
Judges commended the series as “a fascinating look at the link between two cultures” and “a very worthwhile endeavor, and a glimpse into the rewards and sorrows of immigration.”
More online: tinyurl.com/SDXRadio6