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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winners: Radio Categories


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Award Winners: Radio Categories

National Public Radio (2), Homelands Productions, The Bob Edwards Show and KPLU Public Radio

By Jim Poyser

Breaking News Reporting

WINNER: MELISSA BLOCK & ANDREA HSU, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

“Chengdu, China Earthquake Coverage”

Oh, my goodness, we’re in the middle of an earthquake. The whole block is shaking. … The top of the church is falling down. The ground is shaking underneath our feet and all of the people are running out into the street. As we’re standing here, birds are flying. The ground is undulating under my feet.

Melissa Block, a 24-year veteran of NPR, has been co-hosting “All Things Considered” since 2003. Her stories in the immediate aftermath of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake earned NPR a Peabody, a duPont Columbia award and a National Headliner award. Block recalls, “We happened to be rolling tape for a completely unrelated interview when the earthquake first struck. We kept rolling as we ran out into the street, and I began narrating what we were experiencing for several long, stomach-churning moments.

“My first reaction was confusion, then shock mixed with a small dose of terror. As the buildings around us rattled and shook, the ground heaved, people swarmed into the streets in panic, and debris rained down, we provided an on-the-spot, instantaneous documentation of the earthquake that ultimately claimed nearly 90,000 lives around Sichuan province.

“The two weeks we spent in Sichuan after the earthquake were emotionally grueling, and everything we saw and heard has stayed with me ever since. I’ve never been confronted so directly and powerfully with so much death and destruction, on such a wide scale.”

Judges said the “use of language was effective, non-hyperbolical and authentic in reporting a disaster in progress. The on-the-scene reporter’s coverage defines the concept of breaking news. This entry demonstrates both unusual initiative and ingenuity.”

Block, who has also covered 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shootings, added, “I’m always reminded that reporters occupy a seat of privilege. Strange as it sounds, I do think it’s a privilege to be witness to these terrible events, and to be a careful documentarian as those affected by disaster share their experience with us.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/d2fc4y

Investigative Reporting

WINNER: JOHN BURNETT, MARISA PENALOZA, QUINN O’TOOLE & TANYA BALLARD-BROWN, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

“Dirty Money”

Authorities estimate every year $12 billion in drug profits returns to Mexico from the world’s largest narcotics market, the USA. As a tactic in the war on drugs, law enforcement pursues drug money and is then allowed to keep a portion of what they find as an incentive to fight crime. But critics warn that the flow of money distorts law enforcement.

U.S. Highway 77 follows the coastal bend of South Texas, past mesquite thickets, grapefruit stands and vast historic ranches on its way to the Mexican border.

Drug agents say Highway 77 is one of the busiest smuggling corridors in the world. Think of it as a great two-way river — drugs flow north, drug money flows south. For the impoverished cities and counties situation along 77, it is like a river of gold.

The “Dirty Money” team includes digital managing editor Tanya Ballard-Brown, national desk editor Quinn O’Toole, national desk producer Marisa Penaloza and correspondent John Burnett. Burnett discovered this story by surprise. His research began with the intent to unravel money-laundering from the trafficker’s perspective, but the deeper he got, the more he realized that the invisible story was how some law enforcement agencies have become addicted to seizing drug money.

NPR News found abuses of the civil asset forfeiture law: police agencies that have grown over-dependent on seizing drug money, agencies more interested in confiscating cash than drugs, agencies misspending the funds in the absence of effective oversight, and, in the extreme, agencies seizing thousands of dollars from motorists for whom there is no evidence of drug trafficking.

Judges said this entry “demonstrates that radio is still a viable and important source of in-depth and investigative reporting. What is impressive about this entry is the scope of the information that is at the root of this investigative four-part series. It is evident that all involved in this production listen to what their interviewees say and delve beyond the surface information. The writing, audio imagery and overall storytelling show exemplary clarity and conciseness.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/5pgffg

Feature Reporting

WINNER: HOMELANDS PRODUCTIONS

“WORKING”

It’s often said the global economy has brought us closer to the rest of the world. In some ways, that’s true, but in other ways the world is larger than ever. We no longer know the people who grow our food, sew our clothing, build our gadgets and manage our money. Yet they are linked to us in vital ways. In fact, nearly everything is the product of human labor, much of it performed in faraway places by people we will never meet.

To better understand those people and their work is to better understand our world and ourselves.

So Homelands Productions created “WORKING,” profiles that take listeners deep into the life of a single worker in the global economy. Launched in 2007 and running through 2009, the series has covered the wealthy, the poor, some who are beaten down by their jobs, some who are liberated by them. Subjects include a young female cabinet minister fighting corruption in Macedonia; a globetrotting French chocolate taster in Ecuador; a teenage tannery worker in Pakistan. Each profile is accompanied by a Web package, including a slideshow and article. A standalone site, working.homelands.org, includes an interactive feature called the Worker Browser.

Judges said: “‘WORKING’ works! This series is a fascinating look at how people around the world, in a variety of jobs, carry out those jobs.”

Executive producer Jonathan Miller, senior producer Sandy Tolan and producers Kelly McEvers and Gregory Warner say they were inspired by “the late, great Studs Terkel, who listened hard to what people had to say about what they did all day. He showed that if you open your ears to ordinary people, you’ll hear extraordinary things.”

“Like love and death and food and sex, work is fundamental to the human condition,” they said. “A series about workers and their jobs seemed like a perfect way to remind Americans that they’re not alone, that the world is full of interesting people who have things to teach us about what it is to be human, and what it’s like to live on this planet in these confusing times.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/q7dvw3

Radio Documentaries

WINNER: BOB EDWARDS & ARIANA PEKARY, SIRIUS XM RADIO/THE BOB EDWARDS SHOW

“Stories From Third Med: Surviving a Jungle ER”

This radio documentary was recorded in early May in Charleston, S.C., when the doctors and corpsmen of the Navy’s Third Medical Battalion gathered for a 40-year reunion. Airing just a few weeks later on May 23, for Memorial Day weekend, “Third Med,” by host/reporter Bob Edwards and producer Ariana Pekary, let “the doctors and medics recount the horror (and humor) they can never forget, and reflect on the forces that drive people to war in the first place.”

Bob Edwards: John Little was a corpsman based at Dong Ha. He retired from law enforcement and now does security work for a major airline.

John Little: You could sleep through anything, sleep through rocket attacks, sleep through anything. Helicopter landed, you knew it was work, so you immediately — and I mean a helicopter to this day wakes me up, especially if it’s a Hughie type, you know, a JetRanger, something like that that’s a Turbo Prop, I still wake up. And you just — you’re up because that was the, sort of the starting gun, the starting whistle of when the work was gonna start. There were just so many times and you didn’t even know what time it was, what day it was, and it really didn’t make any difference. The equipment that we had for the time I guess was really modern, but what they have today is just … you know what a defibrillator is? We had a Marine … we tried to get his heart started, so we made a defibrillator basically, this is two kitchen knives hooked up to an electrical cord and we plugged it into a generator trying to get a spark.

Judges applaud the documentary’s “great reporting” as it captured “life-or-death situations in great storytelling. The interviews carried the story and kept one’s attention. This is revelatory journalism.”

Edwards, well-known for his work on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” along with producer Pekary, note that “many listeners wrote to us after hearing the ‘Third Med’ documentary to say they had to stop what they were doing to weep.”

Judges said, “This is a documentary that one could listen to numerous times and still be affected in various ways. [The journalists] should be proud of this work. A truly beautiful and insightful piece.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/lk53v2

Public Service in Radio Journalism

WINNER: KPLU PUBLIC RADIO

“Impact of War on Children”

The war in Iraq is an adult conflict, but children often get caught up in the violence. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of children have been injured or killed since the start of the war. Some of the injured get treatment, some don’t; many roam the streets orphaned. And then there’s Hamoody Jouda, an injured boy put on a unique path that has led him to the United States.

Since he arrived here, Hamoody has undergone five major surgeries. His face has been reconstructed. His nose is a thin flap of skin that looks like it’s leaping for his left glass eye. He can breathe more easily. But it took the doctors two years — two years in the U.S. … Hamoody has no clear memory of his parents. To him they’re crackly voices over the telephone. And he can’t tell them, “I am OK here, I am happy and healthy.” Because Hamoody has also forgotten his Arabic.

Judges said: “This would have been an easy program to do; just get some refugee kids telling how tough it is to be in a war. Add in some kids of deployed troops telling you how awful it is to have Dad or Mom away on active duty and you would have the perfect tear-jerker series.

“What the staff at KPLU did was way above that. They let us into the lives and minds of these kids; we got to know each one, to feel the pain and joy and the conflicts each of them had. Only good reporting, writing and editing skills could have pulled this off this well.”

Erin Hennessey, news director for KPLU, said, “Children are often voiceless when it comes to war. Our series took an important step in rectifying that. By bringing these children’s stories to light and creating a place for our listeners to offer feedback, we believe we provided an important public service to our community.”Judges added: “KPLU has set an example of long-form reporting, which should be emulated but may be difficult to surpass.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/l4yotj

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