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Home > Publications > Quill > Sigma Delta Chi Awards Winners - Television


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Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Sigma Delta Chi Awards Winners - Television

By Austine Considine

Click here for introduction to the awards and a menu of all categories.

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

Winner: NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams

“Miracle on the Hudson”

When news surfaced that an airliner was in trouble and flying low over the Hudson River, the staff at “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” had the depth of resources and broadness of experience to spring immediately into action.

As such, NBC was able to capture some of the earliest images of Flight 1549 after it made a miraculous emergency landing on the Hudson — an ending as happy as it was unlikely, in which no one was killed.

In a nomination letter, NBC explained how its coverage converged: “Word first came to NBC’s New York domestic news bureau via a caller who wondered if a movie were being made in the city because they spotted a DC-10 flying dangerously low over the Hudson River. …

“News researcher Daniel Linden — a volunteer firefighter on Long Island — and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (a former volunteer firefighter himself) were able to patch into the city’s frequencies to hear where fire trucks had been dispatched, confirming that a plane was ‘in trouble’ and would be forced to make an emergency landing.

“NBC News immediately dispatched field crews and two satellite trucks to the river … along with a team of digital journalists — producers equipped with small hand-held cameras that enabled them to get past barricades quickly to report the story — just after the plane had landed.

“There they captured some of the first images of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane as ferries approached, and as they began jumping into lifeboats.”

Judges called NBC’s work “great comprehensive coverage of a breaking news story that turned out to be one of the year’s biggest stories.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV1

_____________________

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

Winner: 24-Hour News 8 Staff, WISH-TV

“Canal Fire”

On March 12, 2009, Indianapolis firefighters battled one of the largest fires in the city’s history. A six-story, luxury condominium complex — under construction and slated for completion in the coming months — burst into flames. More than 100 firefighters fought through the night. By the time it was finished, the fire had completely gutted the complex, valued at up to $37 million, and spread to the rooftop of the neighboring Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.

Following a tip, reporters from WISH-TV, a local CBS affiliate, pursued news of the blaze with their own investigation: As it turned out, lax building codes were at least partially to blame for creating conditions that allowed the fire to spread out of control. WISH-TV reporters broke the news.

“We began our coverage as breaking news on our morning newscast,” editors at WISH-TV explained. “The next day, one of our reporters got a tip on a variance that allowed developers to build the building out of wood rather than steel.”

In the days following, city officials determined that the cause of the fire was arson. WISH-TV’s coverage brought viewers through to the story’s conclusion — a story upon which the station’s own investigations had shed an important bit of light.

Judges commended the start-to-finish coverage, calling the work a “Good series of event coverage. The variance of building code was the enterprise. … (The) series allowed the public to follow the story to conclusion.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV2

_____________________

Breaking News Coverage (Small-Market Station: 51+)

Winner: April Samp & KGAN News Team, KGAN-TV

“August Flash Flood”

Torrential rains began to fall in Cedar Rapids, Mich., one early afternoon in August 2009 and, within hours, KGAN-TV was mobilized and reporting what had quickly turned into a dangerous flash flood situation.

KGAN was on the air before 3:30 p.m., interrupting regular programming with breaking news reports. At 5 p.m., the team switched to non-stop coverage, having deployed five reporter and camera teams to cover the floods as they developed for two hours.

Roads, parks and backyards were under water in no time. Volunteers from around the community filled sandbags while local emergency officials executed dramatic high-water rescues. The local news team documented it all, demonstrating remarkable coordination and depth of coverage, despite limited resources.

KGAN-TV explained that, on a logistical level, breaking the news “presented some challenges” throughout. “There was a lot of coordination between the newsroom, reporters and the staff on the air to have a flawless presentation of the latest news. … KGAN has two live trucks and used both of them throughout the evening. Our other reporters covered outside the Cedar Rapids metro area and sent back several as live pieces and sound from the breaking news coverage.”

Judges agreed that KGAN’s organization and resourcefulness were exemplary: “The KGAN News Team demonstrated high-quality teamwork in covering a developing situation while at the same time providing important community information like flooded areas to avoid and where emergency man power is needed. (They) also demonstrated a high level of teamwork in the coordination of efforts by people at the station and those in the field. It is also obvious that the News Team successfully hurdled a number of obstacles to provide coverage.”

_____________________

Investigative Reporting (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

Winner: Scott Pelley, Draggan Mihailovich, Warren Lustig & Nathalie Sommer, CBS News’ “60 Minutes”

“Amazon Crude”

When Chevron, America’s third-largest company, purchased Texaco in 2001, the oil giant took over not only Texaco’s assets but its liabilities. Among them: a decades-old pollution scandal in Ecuador in which, locals say, Texaco managed to pollute “the most important rain forest on earth.”

Inhabitants of the remote region decided to sue Texaco — a suit that has since carried over onto Chevron’s docket — for damages of up to $27 billion: compensation, they say, for reckless oil exploration. When the story was broadcast in 2009, it was the largest environmental lawsuit in history.

The plaintiffs contended that Texaco was deliberately dumping; Chevron said any possible contamination by Texaco was cleaned up following a deal in the 1990s with the Ecuadorean government. By the time “60 Minutes” waded into the poisonous, Amazonian muck, the case had been under dispute for nearly 16 years.

Unsurprisingly, investigative reporters for the controversial exposé faced their greatest challenge in simply making sure they got their facts straight. The vast trove of documents associated with the pending case made research both time-intensive and tough to disentangle. The successful, accurate piece by “60 Minutes” is a testament to journalistic perseverance and flexibility.

“The most difficult aspect of this was sifting through thousands of pages of documents … and dealing with the scientific complexities that are inherent to cases involving oil contamination, especially when both sides have different versions of what they consider to be the facts,” producers wrote in a nomination letter.

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV9

_____________________

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (LARGE-Market Station: 1-50)

Winner: Beth Rimbey & Dan Noyes, KGO-TV

“Evergreen Community College Investigation”

When Beth Rimbey and Dan Noyes learned that Chancellor Rosa Perez and senior administrators from the San Jose Evergreen Community College District had spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on overseas trips to places like Scotland, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Honduras and El Salvador, it was clear something didn’t add up.

The District claimed the trips were for student recruitment abroad. But college credit cards provided further evidence of abuse. On behalf of KGO-TV News, ABC’s San Francisco-based affiliate, Rimbey and Noyes discovered that Perez had also been using college credit cards without oversight — $130,000 worth of purchases on things like exclusive club memberships, personal home furniture and electronics, expensive meals and plane tickets for personal travel, for herself and family members.

“In all of these instances, the district’s elected Board of Trustees should have been asking questions, but they did not,” Rimbey and Noyes wrote to judges. “A look at their credit cards shows why they might have been reluctant, as some of them went on the international trips themselves.”

KGO’s investigation was a painstaking, arduous process that took over six months to bring to fruition. Whistle-blower sources, afraid to speak out, had to be cultivated for months; Freedom of Information Act requests were filed; thousands of pages of documents had to be reviewed; lawyers employed by the school tried to block KGO’s efforts.

“These stories … were about fortitude,” Rimbey and Noyes said. “In order to get these stories done, we had to act as a therapist, a lawyer, an advocate and a financial forensic accountant. But this was a good example that a journalist can do good when a story needs to be told.”

Judges agreed: “This story would make any taxpayer’s blood boil,” they said. “Excellent job of uncovering reams of documents showing what apparently was blatant misuse of public funds. The college trustees themselves seemed caught unaware — or had something to hide — when confronted with the information.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV10

_____________________

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (SMALL-Market Station: 51+)

Winner: Don Dare & Dave Wignall, WATE-TV

“Protecting Patients”

When ABC affiliate WATE-TV turned its investigative reporting team loose on a local hospital equipment rental facility in Knoxville, Tenn., what they found was nothing short of revolting.

When the door is up at New Care’s warehouse in South Knoxville, you see rental hospital equipment, special beds and mattresses that go into intensive care units or are used by overweight patients at some East Tennessee hospitals. A closer look, however, reveals spider webs, live bugs, dead bugs, even cigarette butts, but outside the door there is a “no smoking” sign.

“You see throughout the warehouse, there is a tremendous amount of bug infestation,” says Clay Spires, a former New Care employee.

Spires says there’s never been any written protocol for employees to follow, there’s no quality control checklist or formal training in order to meet the stringent standards demanded of the hospital equipment.

“My concern is the trust that the hospitals have with New Care.”

Would Spires put one of his family members on one of New Care’s beds? “Absolutely not.”


Don Dare, reporter for WATE-TV, and photographer/editor Dave Wignall explained how the story originated:

“A whistle-blower provided WATE’s investigative unit with undercover video showing unhealthy conditions at a hospital supply warehouse,” they wrote. “To independently confirm conditions depicted in the video, former employees were contacted by the investigative team.”

From there, the onion revealed its layers: “Not only did they say the pictures were representative of conditions while they worked at the facility, the ex-employees also provided information about no formal training, inadequate control measures and HIPAA violations by the company’s corporate management,” they said.

Not long after the piece was broadcast, New Care closed its Knoxville facility under public pressure. Judges praised WATE’s “Straightforward investigative journalism” that “holds one company accountable for its actions and gets results.”

_____________________

Feature Reporting (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

Winner: Staff, CBS News

“Children of the Recession”

Amid the myriad tales of woe to emerge from the recession — from Wall Street to Main Street, from lost retirement funds to lost livelihoods — scarcely anyone in the media, it seems, had stopped to wonder how the recession was affecting our country’s most vulnerable residents: children.

CBS News undertook such an inquiry with its series “Children of the Recession,” the network’s first major multiplatform, divisionwide effort.

During the opening week of the series, CBS News ran “Children of the Recession” reports during each of its hard news broadcasts, featuring work by CBS News reporters and anchors such as Katie Couric, Maggie Rodriguez, Byron Pitts and Seth Doane.

Additional reports, including follow-ups about the lives of children from earlier reports, continued over time. Meanwhile, reports were repeated on CBS Radio and cbsnews.com, alongside other original reporting, and a Spanish Language blog by “Early Show” anchor Rodriguez was featured online.

But as excellent as the series was, the reaction it provoked was just as impressive. “The response of the viewers was overwhelming,” CBS said. For example, after Couric’s report on the “Safe Families” program for children with economically struggling parents, 500 more families volunteered their homes for children in the program.

Judges called “Children of the Recession” the “clear winner,” noting that “it provides the viewer access and emotion and has overall impact on the community.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV14

_____________________

Feature Reporting (Large-Market Station: 1-50)

Winner: Boyd Huppert & Jonathan Malat, KARE-TV

“Land of 10,000 Stories”

“Land of 10,000 Stories” was created six years ago as a long-form feature collaboration between photojournalist Jonathan Malat, a two-time National Press Photographers Association Photographer of the Year, and Boyd Huppert, a TV news veteran of more than 25 years.

KARE submitted two stunning entries from 2009 that highlight the in-depth, sensitive, humanistic stories woven by these two journalistic talents.

The first, titled “Lexi’s Feat,” documents the amazing accomplishments of Lexi, a 5-year-old girl whose hands can’t perform normal functions. With tenacity not seen in most full-grown adults, she has learned to use her feet to do everything from putting mayonnaise on her bread to writing her name.

By all accounts, Lexi should have died at birth. Her intestines were outside her body, her limbs stiff and useless from a rare birth defect called arthrogryposis, Huppert narrates. Nine months ago, Lexi wasn’t walking at all. In fact, a doctor once told her she would never walk.

“Yeah but I showed him,” Lexi says.

The second, titled “The Tyler Project,” is a heartbreaking piece about a young man named Tyler Shipman, who was diagnosed with cancer his senior year of high school.

In August, Tyler had his senior portraits taken with his ’86 Fiero. He’d just turned 18. Two failed rounds of chemotherapy, 15 radiation treatments, and now Tyler’s home near Frazee, Minnesota, is also his hospice.

Tyler’s abiding passion was for his Pontiac Fiero, bought for $150, which he was slowly restoring when became too ill to finish. His greatest wish was to see it fully restored before he died. Huppert and Malat’s piece follows a bittersweet tale of human compassion, when a post by Tyler to an online Fiero forum drew two dozen Fiero enthusiasts to Frazee from around the country to fulfill his wish.

“Difficult as this year has been, we believe in the power of storytelling to connect with our viewers,” KARE wrote. “With so many online and cable sources competing for attention, compelling photography and writing remain our best hope as a television station and as a profession.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV7

_____________________

Feature Reporting (Small-Market Station: 51+)

Winner: Evan Axelbank & Leif Nielsen, WROC-TV

“Reunion in Rochester”

When Evan Axelbank showed up at “The Wall That Heals,” a traveling, scaled-down version of the Vietnam War Memorial, he didn’t know he was going to have the chance to change three people’s lives forever.

“The Wall That Heals” was stopping through Fairport, N.Y., just outside Rochester, and Axelbank was on what seemed like a simple summertime human interest assignment for WROC-TV, Rochester’s CBS affiliate. While there, he met a Vietnam veteran named Dave Flaherty, who had come to search for the name of his best friend, Robert Bryson, who was killed in Vietnam at age 22.

The cameras rolled as Flaherty removed a photo from his wallet — a torn and faded image of a young toddler, Bryson’s then 7-month-old daughter, Lisa. Flaherty had been searching for Bryson’s wife, JoAnne, “so that I could talk to her,” he said. “And I haven’t been able to locate her.”

After Axelbank’s story was aired that evening, he made an open call to the television audience: If anyone knew where JoAnne or her daughter were, or how to find them, please contact the station.

Axelbank received an e-mail from an acquaintance of Lisa’s that next day. She was grown now, in her 40s, and working as a television commercial producer in Chicago.

Afraid to open old wounds, both Lisa and JoAnne finally agreed to meet with Flaherty after some deliberation. WROC flew the mother and daughter to Rochester, where the meeting was filmed. The tear-soaked, bittersweet reunion resulted in the award-winning “Reunion in Rochester,” which aired on Veterans Day last year. Flaherty called the reunion the best day of his life.

“Dave had accomplished his lifelong goal of finding out what became of his friend’s family,” Axelbank wrote in his submission letter. “For Joanne and Lisa, the visit opened new avenues to discuss Robert’s death. Now, (Lisa) could hear first-hand stories from her father’s best friend.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV8

_____________________

Documentaries (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

Winner: Staff, PBS Frontline World, PBS

“Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground”

As technology advances and consumers perpetually upgrade their digital devices — from TVs to laptops — journalists around the world have taken note in recent years of the consequences of our electronic waste, particularly in China, home to the world’s largest e-dumping site.

PBS’ “Frontline World” discovered, however, that the problem of electronic waste is actually much broader than China, with tentacles reaching across the developing world.

With a team of graduate students from the University of British Columbia, led by correspondent and professor Peter Klein, “Frontline World” decided to follow the e-garbage around the world to places like China, India and Ghana. What they found was horrifying and revolting.

Just outside Ghana’s largest city, for example, the team discovered a smoldering wasteland atop one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water, the Korle Lagoon, which locals refer to as “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Boys from the surrounding slums have built a desperate and hazardous economy around the pile, inhaling toxic fumes each day as they burn down the plastics to obtain the remaining metals.

Viewers watch as Alex, a 13-year-old from the local slums, takes them across a dead, polluted river to an area called Agbogbloshie, where Western countries dump hundreds of millions of tons of e-waste each year.

But the team also discovered security risks. As “Frontline World” told judges: “At a market in Accra, Ghanaians admit to us that West African organized criminals sometimes comb through discarded computer hard drives, searching for personal information to use in scams, so we decided to surreptitiously buy some drives and see what we could find. We found Social Security numbers and other personal data of the original owners.”

Judges called “Digital Dumping Ground” an “excellent news documentary. Most of all they told us something unusual about our world, and made us realize something very important about how we affect our world, and that captured our attention.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV3

_____________________

Documentaries (Large-Market Station: 1-50)

Winner: Tony Kovaleski, Tom Burke, Arthur Kane & Jason Foster, KMGH-TV

“33 Minutes to 34 Right”

It was an utter miracle: On Dec. 20, 2008, a 737 jetliner carrying 155 passengers lifted off from Denver airport, then erupted into a ball of fire and smoked, crashing off runway 34 Right. Amazingly, none of the passengers bound for Houston that evening was killed.

That no one died was more amazing still considering the ambulance response time: 33 minutes — a snail’s pace in a situation so perilous.

Reporters at KMGH-TV, ABC’s Denver affiliate, unfortunately, were not surprised. Only a few months prior, KMGH had reported the lack of emergency response crews on or near Denver airport. Other busy airports have on-site ambulances — Denver International, the nation’s fourth-busiest airport, was the only airport among the top five not to — but Denver airport relied upon ambulances based at the nearest emergency room, at least 15 miles away.

Paramedics had complained to KMGH earlier in 2008, prompting an investigation. As KMGH told judges: “Average response times for emergencies at DIA were nearly double the national standard, and in one case … a father of two died at the airport waiting more than 30 minutes for an ambulance. Executives from Denver Health Medical Center repeatedly attacked the accuracy of the KMGH reporting.”

Following the crash of Continental Flight 1404 in December, KMGH looked into emergency response times. Again, hospital officials and other local agencies tried to block the investigation, but investigators prevailed.

The following March, KMGH broadcast “33 Minutes to 34 Right,” exposing the truth about the ambulance response. The short documentary resulted in significant policy changes in regard to emergency response at Denver International, including the addition of the airport’s first on-site ambulance.

Judges said: “This doc is an excellent example of finding a local story, seeing what it is and developing a tight, compelling film that calls for action. The re-enactments were effective. It lacks the self-promotion so often found in projects such as these. The producers didn’t go for an easy get. They found the story and told it well.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV4

_____________________

Documentaries (Small-Market Station: 51+)

Winner: Lauren Bernaldo, Todd Ofenbeck & Yn Pragne, Waterman Broadcasting

“Five Years After Charley”


Nearly six years before southwest Florida was menaced by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it was pummeled by Hurricane Charley — a Category 4 hurricane that toppled buildings, destroyed homes and took the lives of at least 10 people.

In 2009, a small team from Waterman Broadcasting, which owns the ABC affiliate based in Naples, was assembled to produce a documentary for Charley’s fifth anniversary, about how survivors were faring five years on. “Five Years After Charley,” a sensitive look at the survivors and their indomitable spirit, was the result.

“(Executive producer Todd Ofenbeck) and I had just six weeks to put this entire special together,” wrote Lauren Bernaldo, executive producer, researcher and writer for the project. Bernaldo and Ofenbeck got to work and teamed up with graphic designer Yn Pragne. “I dug through our archives to find people and issues we covered five years ago and then tracked those people down, as well as the agencies best equipped to address those issues.”

The most striking thing they discovered were the emergency relocation areas — one of which is known as “FEMA City” — where hundreds of trailers were plunked down following the hurricane amid promises of compensation and temporary relocation. Many displaced victims are still living there today.

Viewers were moved by the documentary, some of whom were seeing Charley’s devastation for the first time.

“At one point in the beginning, I started crying because all those memories of the year, destruction and loss came rushing back,” one viewer wrote. “You both did a great job of recapturing the past while documenting the recovery efforts of today and the future.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV5

_____________________

Public Service in Television Journalism (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

Winner: NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams

“Making a Difference”


In these times of war, environmental catastrophe, political divisiveness and economic downturn, it’s not often that the news is a source of joy, comfort or inspiration.

One consistent exception has been a recurring segment on “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams,” “Making a Difference,” in which NBC reporters, led by anchor and managing editor Brian Williams, take time several nights each week to, in the words of NBC, recognize the “countless good works being done by individuals and organizations that give back to the community.”

In light of the global economic downturn, “Making a Difference” seemed to fill a particularly acute gap in 2009. And in its poignancy, the series elicited viewer engagement and sharing: Many of the stories sprang directly from viewer e-mails, like Roger O’Neil’s report on a café in Denver where customers can pay for their food or work for it during hard times.

Other highlights from the year include Mike Taibbi’s report about a program at the Boston Ballet for children with Down syndrome; Kevin Tibbles’ report about a pair of Chicago septuagenarian doctors and lifelong friends who came out of retirement to provide free health care in tough times; and Chris Jansing’s report about an anonymous charity website started by a couple in Bellingham, Wash., that helps needy families around the country.

Judges called the series “a truly wonderful venture in reminding viewers the importance of helping others. This series gives example after example of those often unseen heroes who believe service to humanity is the best work of life.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV11

_____________________

Public Service in Television Journalism (Large-Market Station: 1-50)

Winner: 10News I-Team, KGTV

“Hate Crimes”

“Whether or not we want to admit it, hate crimes are a part of our lives, but tracking hate statistics is not always easy,” staffers at KGTV said. “The FBI doesn’t compare year-to-year statistics because they say different agencies report crimes each year, which means it’s tough to figure out whether the problem of hate is improving or worsening.”

With that as their cue, journalists at KGTV took it upon themselves to fill the gap in addressing hate issues in San Diego. The coverage was extensive and enterprising, blurring the lines between aggressive reporting and community activism in the San Diego area.

The news team broadly reported the issue throughout 2009, producing stories about hate crimes against gays and lesbians and religious hate crimes, and about the immigration debate. An exclusive KGTV poll showed “half of San Diegans think more needs to be done about the problem of hate crimes.”

Meanwhile, the station teamed up with a local anti-hate group, United for a Hate-Free San Diego, to co-host a hate-crimes forum.

Publicly, KGTV’s report was well-received in many quarters, but not all. In a demonstrable sign of a job well done, militant anti-immigrant groups were particularly agitated by the reports.

Judges commended the effort, calling it “well-produced” with “multiple examples of members of the community affected by this problem, many voices heard from including victims, those who strive to find solutions and those who put their own lives on the line in their efforts to enact change.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV12

_____________________

Public Service in Television Journalism (Small-Market Station: 51+)

Winner: Kathy Reynolds, WGGB

“Crime Files: A Call to Action”

Springfield, Mass. — poverty-stricken and pinned down at the intersection of two major New England interstate highways — has gotten more dangerous in recent years. Budget cuts have hobbled police efforts, jobs are diminishing, and more and more people are turning to crime. A recent gang war saw 17 people murdered, some of whom were innocent bystanders.

Opting not to merely report from above, the news team from WGGB waded into the chaos in ways that have made a demonstrably positive impact in the local community. Together with local law enforcement officials, the station’s news team devised a new series, “Crime Files,” as a locally targeted twist on shows like “America’s Most Wanted.”

“Early in the year, we noticed a pattern in our crime coverage; witnesses weren’t talking to police,” WGGB wrote in a nomination letter. “They feared if they spoke up and pointed a finger, retaliation would follow. Neighbors told us public safety was their number one concern and suggested new and anonymous tools for reporting crime were needed.”

Each week, investigative journalist Kathy Reynolds meets with Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney to interview him about one criminal. The photography staff then uses mug shots to create re-enactments of alleged crimes for viewers to dramatize and capture audiences.

It’s a tactic that seems to be working. WGGB directs viewers to its website after each segment, where they can leave anonymous tips. The site also features “pictures and contact information for detectives, cold case information and links to unidentified homicide victims.” The series led to the capture of 61 accused criminals in Springfield in nine months.

Quality, aggressive crime reporting — particularly with an intent to provoke a reaction — is notoriously difficult to pull off without tipping into sensationalism. Judges recognized the team’s balance of restraint and creativity, noting it was clear that WGGB was “committed to crime solving,” having produced a “good example of civic journalism and sustained effort … not just a sweeps series.”

More online: tinyurl.com/SDXTV13

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