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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Radio Documentaries


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Tuesday, July 3, 2007
SDX Awards: Radio Documentaries

Winner: Todd Melby and Diane Richard, Chicago Public Radio

by Jim Poyser

To pay for public schools, Illinois relies more heavily on local property taxes than most states. This works in property-rich districts. Schools in Chicago’s wealthier north and northwest suburbs do better under this formula than anywhere else.

But rural schools are paying a price.

As part of the series “Chicago Matters: Valuing Education,” producers Todd Melby and Diane Richard spent time in several rural Illinois districts to see whether state funding decisions shortchange schools in small towns

Judges said: “The narrative-style writing and use of natural sound easily hooked the judges from the beginning. The dual-host format was refreshing and added to the diversity of voices. The reporters introduced us to many of the story’s characters, and capturing sound and interviews on different locations was a plus. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this documentary was the subject: inadequate educational systems and funding. It is an incredibly important — and difficult — topic to cover.”

The five-month project resulted in a 29-minute documentary. Diane Richard: “We felt passionately about reporting a story that reflected non-urban issues, given that funding shortfalls hit rural districts so hard. I grew up in Evanston, a Chicago suburb, and I was oblivious to the property-tax wealth I was lucky to benefit from.”

Todd Melby: “I spent two years in high school in rural North Dakota, where I experienced the suburban/rural disparity firsthand.”

Along with editor Robbie Harris, Melby and Richard were gratified to learn that stations in several smaller cities in Illinois aired their documentary.

“Well-produced radio documentaries are an underrated form of narrative for journalism,” Melby said. “At their best, radio docs give listeners a chance to understand people’s lives without pummeling them with mind-numbing facts.”

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