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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, network/Top 25 markets


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Friday, June 30, 2006
SDX Awards: TV investigative reporting, network/Top 25 markets

Winner: Susannah Frame, Eric Olson and Kellie Cheadle — KING-TV, Seattle

By Chris Speckman

The King 5 Investigators have found that since Menzies took over the ramp work in May, there’s been a dramatic spike in problems.

More theft from checked baggage …

More injuries to workers …

More vehicle accidents …

And a rash of aircraft damage caused by ramp workers.

Alaska had a total of 17 ramp problems in 2003, 15 in 2004. But that number jumped to 72 in the first nine months of the year.

Only a few weeks after KING-TV in Seattle reported that Alaska Airline passengers might be in danger due to inferior work of Menzies Aviation, the airline’s new cost-cutting contractor, reporter Susannah Frame, producer Kellie Cheadle and photographer Eric Olson received shocking news.

“I found out that less than a month after our story aired, Alaska Airlines had an emergency landing which was a result of a ramp worker damaging a plane,” said Cheadle. “I was stunned. It was eerie to go back and watch our investigation that warned of that very possibility. It made me realize that while our work often exposes ‘potential’ problems, it can be even more relevant than we know.”

Even though the investigative report couldn’t keep that flight from having problems, eventually the report resulted in a safer air carrier and a safer Sea-Tac International Airport.

“The story pressured Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle to take safety on the tarmac more seriously,” said Frame. “The company instituted more rigorous training programs for their ramp workers, and the port has made physical improvements at the airport where accidents were happening frequently.”

That said, Frame is far from fearless about flying an airline with a past history of safety setbacks.

“I have certainly had my eyes opened to security and safety problems in the field of aviation that I never dreamed of prior to this investigation,” said Frame. “The work has changed the way that my family and I travel, in that we are avoiding airlines that we know have security and safety weaknesses.”

Olson took away a similar revelation about taking to the skies.

“I’ve certainly changed on a personal level because of this entry,” said the photographer. “I will forever look at the airlines I fly with a more critical eye, and not just choose based on the cheapest fare or ‘brand loyalty.’ ”

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