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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Newspaper feature writing, over 100,000


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Friday, June 30, 2006
SDX Awards: Newspaper feature writing, over 100,000

Winner: Jeff Kunerth — Orlando Sentinel

By Chris Speckman

The sound of the crash was like heavy metal doors slamming shut on the pre-dawn stillness. BANG! ... BANG! ... BANG! And then the morning silence returned. Within that flash of time on a two-lane Osceola Country road, the destinies of six people collided with a force that still reverberates more than three years later.

It’s easy to thumb over auto accident stories. After all, these morbid write-ups seem permanently affixed to the front sections of daily newspapers; only the names ever change.

“Each car accident is no less gruesome than it is ordinary,” said Mark E. Russell, managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel. “In fact, here on the streets of Central Florida, fatal crashes are so common that they usually merit only a few paragraphs in our newspaper.”

So, one of Russell’s writers, race and demographic reporter Jeff Kunerth, challenged himself to write a narrative about a car crash that would be too moving to miss. Kunerth’s four-part series, “Anatomy of an Accident,” became the 30-year veteran of the Sentinel’s award-winning vehicle.

“The idea for the story itself and the detail in the writing are what won the reporter this award,” said the judges. “Newspapers should more often turn an ordinary event into the extraordinary.

“This story took a brief that shows up in our papers on a daily basis and turned it into a microscopic view of something that could happen to anyone at any time.”

Even though the recognition of other journalists helped reaffirm Kunerth’s confidence, reader feedback has been even more rewarding.

“I think my favorite comment came from a reader who complained, ‘This doesn’t read like a newspaper story. What’s it doing on the front page?’ ” said Kunerth. “Other readers said they felt like they were inside the cars at the time of the crash and inside the skin of the family and survivors. That is what I was trying to accomplish, and it feels pretty gratifying when you think you pulled it off.”

Here’s a snippet of the work that garnered those rave reviews.

Three died. Three emerged scarred forever. In the memories of the survivors and the grief of the families, the accident on Poinciana Boulevard just after 6 a.m. on April 27, 2002, was the beginning of a day that never ended. …

This is the story of one accident worth telling not because it is more significant than any other. But by considering the causes and consequences of one fatal crash, then multiplying its power and tragedy by all others like it, we can being to comprehend the true human toll of carnage on our roads.

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