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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards Winners: Television Breaking News Coverage


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Awards Winners: Television Breaking News Coverage

NBC Nightly News, Bay News 9 and WBIR-TV 10

By Jim Poyser

Breaking News Coverage (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

WINNER: ALEXANDRA WALLACE, MARY LAURENCE FLYNN, RICHARD ENGEL & MADELEINE HAERINGER, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS"

“Tip of the Spear”

With just 150 men, 29-year-old Capt. Jimmy Howell has a daunting mission: to drive the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters out of the Korengal Valley, their main safe haven in Afghanistan. But first Howell has to find them.

He has a daring plan. Before dawn, his unit sets out for the village of Korengal, a Taliban stronghold. They travel in Humvees. They want to be seen. They’re the bait. But Howell has planned a surprise, too.

It took reporter Richard Engel, producer Madeleine Haeringer and cameraman Bredun Edwards two weeks and five helicopter flights to arrive at their base in the Korengal Valley, near what was at that time the deadliest warzone for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. Once there, they experienced life on the frontline with the soldiers. They came under attack from mortars and small arms several times a day. Viewers felt they were with the soldiers, wearing flea collars to ward off bugs, subsisting on little food and fighting an enemy they rarely saw.

Within minutes the plan starts to work. The Taliban open fire, exposing their positions on the mountain slopes. … Howell quickly calls in mortars and 2,000-pound bombs to destroy them. They’re falling simultaneously on both mountains. But suddenly, it goes tragically wrong. A mortar hits the house where the soldiers … are positioned. We can hear their screams, even from a few hundred yards away. ...

One American is dead. He was Sgt. John Penich, 25, from Beach Park, Ill.

Donna Bass, producer of “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” said, “Through Engel’s reporting, we felt the company commander’s pain, so visible on his face, when he realized an American mortar had landed on the wrong target. We saw the misery of the surviving soldiers from the unit, their uniforms still covered in blood.”

Judges said the “coverage was gripping, well-written, and had a graphic portrayal of the danger. Good and emotional follow-up with the family.”

Engel said: “It is a great honor to be recognized, but it was a team effort. It is a tribute to the life of Sgt. Penich.”

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

Breaking News Coverage (Large Market Station: 1-50 Market)

WINNER: STAFF, BAY NEWS 9

“Overturned Tanker”

Shortly before 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, when a tanker truck overturned and exploded on a major area of highway, the Bay News 9 team of producers and reporters sprang into action. The accident caused such a massive backup, even Bay News 9 reporter Laurie Davison and her photographer were trapped in traffic for hours trying to get to the scene.

Laurie Davison: It is absolutely a traffic nightmare out here. ... We have been stuck in traffic ourselves for more than an hour, so it’s very difficult to get anywhere in this area of Manatee County right now. Fortunately, we do have a photographer who is at the scene of this accident, and we are going to show you some live video of that scene.

A tanker truck flipped over the I-75 overpass, landing on Highway 301 and bursting into flames. A spokesman tells me the fire has burned the I-75 overpass badly. They are concerned it could collapse at any moment. There is also fuel all over the highway, and hazmat teams are out there dealing with that.

Judges called the coverage “high achievement. One can almost sense the behind-the-scenes scurrying in the newsroom, control rooms, and in the field to get the latest information to the audience. The reporting details the initial impact of the accident, and the subsequent after-effects. It was also obvious that, in the coverage, the news staff literally overcame road blocks and other obstacles to get the story to its on-air and online audiences.”

The Bay News 9 staff prides itself on being there with breaking news to help viewers, no matter what time of day. “We were able to let our viewers know what was happening before they headed out into rush hour and keep them informed with the latest information and the human stories of those who were there when it happened. Having reporters adapt to obstacles is a sign of the professionalism and teamwork and dedication to a quality product.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/n8m9zz

Breaking News Coverage (Small Market Station: 50+ Market)

WINNER: ALISON MORROW, GERRY OWENS & JOHN MARTIN, WBIR-TV 10

“TVA Ash Spill”

After a dyke broke around midnight, the 70-acre mix of mud and ash flooded 200 acres of land — a morning residents will never forget. … James Schean’s house, one of at least 12 now bordered by the mess. When he finally realized what was happening, his only goal: get out alive. …

For TVA, clean-up could take weeks or even months. For residents displaced by the nightmare, rebuilding their lives will take much longer. But Schean says he’ll spend that time thankful he was able to walk away.

Schean: “Like I told the nurse, I don’t usually go to church every Sunday, but I believe I’ll go this Sunday.”

TVA is the coal-burning power provider for much of Tennessee. It disposes of waste from burnt coal (fly ash) in “ash ponds.” The morning of Dec. 22, 2008, a dike broke at its Kingston plant’s ash pond, sending thousands of tons of fly ash into the surrounding community.

It was as if a volcano erupted all over this small, East Tennessee town.

Judges said: “WBIR-TV in Knoxville did a fine job of covering a news story that had far-reaching impact within the community. The news team did a solid job getting important video of the area that could help explain exactly what the station was covering. Without the images of the ash spill from the air, the scope of the story would have been lost.”

Reporter Alison Morrow had just signed on with WBIR. She said she was quickly thrust into her “fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth live shots of my career on this day. I learned immense lessons on what daylong spot news requires of a reporter from a journalistic as well as physical and mental standpoint.”

Photographer Gerry Owens called getting the story “a real team effort — several people working to get the different elements we needed to tell a compelling story. Also, it was 8 degrees, one of the coldest nights of the year."

Judges added: “WBIR also did a good job reporting the human impact of the story. The interesting and heartfelt soundbytes from the man who lost his home helped hammer this story home.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/nbg439



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