SDX 2000 Awards Gallery
By Lisa Ryckman
Deadline reporting. What a rush.
Few things produce more adrenaline for reporters or more reaction from an audience, and not just the viewers at home. The powerful images of breaking news on television tend to hit people in the face. But a powerfully written spot story, or an emotional moment captured by a still camera, can grab them by the throat.
When two teen-agers went on a killing spree in Columbine High School, my editors at the Rocky Mountain News asked me to take our readers into the terror. They gave me two hours to come up with a story that fit the bill.
Fortunately, I trained in the wire service trenches. Working for The Associated Press for 15 years meant taking on the entire world's deadlines, which were always five minutes ago. Fires, floods, who shot JR? all required urgent leads for somebody, somewhere.
The biggest challenge of deadline news for an AP reporter involved producing a story at the speed of light that didn't sound as if it had been dashed off on a paper towel in an airport bathroom. Rather, the goal was to craft a narrative rich in detail and voices from the scene that could make readers think, feel and cry into their morning coffee.
These days, cable "insta-news" has freed reporters from the fetters of nothing but the facts. It's a given that by the time the paper hits the porch, the average American will have seen the story on the tube every three minutes for the last 24 hours. A print reporter's deadline story must go beyond the initial images and offer insight and context -- all in 20 inches and two hours or less.
Intense stuff. Still, no other deadline journalism can match the lasting impact of a photograph taken by the right photographer at the right time.
Columbine senior Jessica Holliday, caught by Rocky Mountain News photographer George Kochaniec Jr. minutes after she escaped from the massacre in the school library, became the poster child for that tragedy. Her pain, frozen on a single frame, brought the horror of mass murder in suburban Colorado to every corner of the globe, and helped win the Rocky photo staff the Pulitzer Prize and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for breaking news photography.
A century from now, Jessica's anguished face will still conjure memories of Columbine. In the here today, gone tomorrow world of deadline news, a moment can live forever.
Lisa Ryckman is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. Her report on the Columbine school shooting won the 1999 SDX Award for Deadline Reporting.
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Newspaper/Wire Service: Circ Over 100,000
Stephanie Desmon and Antigone Barton, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, Single shot in face kills popular English teacher
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Once again, it had happened.
A shooting at a community school.
This time, it was a seventh-grader at a middle school in Florida. He walked into a classroom at 3:25 p.m. and shot a popular English teacher in the face, killing him.
Stephanie Desmon and Antigone Barton headed up The Palm Beach Post's coverage of the shooting. Managing editor John Bartosek described the report as, "a classic deadline news story about an all-too-familiar American tragedy." But the stories were more than typical, and they were completed in less than eight hours.
Eighteen reporters researched, reported and wrote about the day's events, filling more than five pages of the next day's paper. The lead story summarized the events of the day. More information followed, including a timeline of the shooting, a review of other recent school shootings, an examination of the safety precautions already in place at the school, and a piece about the type of handgun used in the shooting.
Reporters continued the day's coverage with an emotion-filled story about students and parents reactions to the shooting. They also wrote about the shooter, 13-year-old Nate Brazill. Students, teachers, friends and relatives described a child that no one had expected to turn violent.
Other reporters told of slain teacher Barry Grunow, describing him as "a teacher of noble ideals and unconventional ways." To get this piece, writers worked under cruel deadline pressure, talking with coworkers, supervisors, students and even some of Grunow's former teachers. The teacher profile was so full of sources and anecdotes that "you felt like you really knew him," said a contest judge.
Coverage also included an editorial and an interview with a local television anchor about the difficulties involved in reporting breaking news like the school shooting. They reviewed the live coverage and the mistakes that had been made and talked with news directors and general managers about their stations' policies and actions.
Bill Rose, assistant managing editor/metro editor at the paper, said the coverage helped push the school board to adopt new programs designed to get kids to be forthcoming when they hear someone is speaking of violence or has a weapon. Other results: the legislature appropriated a special pension for the widow of the teacher, and the school hosted a series of seminars on violence among children.
The paper continues to cover stories involving fear in schools and violent, puzzling crimes committed by children, and the Post is planning additional coverage of Brazill's trial.
Writer Desmon recalls the most difficult aspect of the story. "Talking to sobbing children as they left the school building was heart-wrenching," she said. "Putting together a credible account of what had happened, in the midst of fevered emotions and rumors, was hard. The truth, that a good student had been sent home for a water balloon fight and had returned to kill a popular teacher, was harder to believe than other stories I heard that day."
Judges said, "Faced with a national news event ... the staff delivered a clear and well-organized main story, complete with eyewitness accounts. They did not try to wring emotion from the reader, relying instead on concise writing and a wealth of detail to tell the sad story."
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Newspaper/Wire Service: Circ Under 100,000
Staff, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, Bar-Jonah charged with killing Ramsay
Snapshot of front page
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In 1996, a little boy in Great Falls, Mont., disappeared. After almost five years, reporter Kim Skornogoski got a tip that charges would finally be filed in the community's only missing child case where the child or a body was never recovered.
The Great Falls Tribune staff planned their coverage, but when the charges finally came, the community was horrified and the story became breaking, national news.
Nathaniel Bar-Jonah was accused of kidnapping, butchering and feeding to others the body of the missing child 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay.
It was a gruesome story, and the paper's challenge was to tell it without sensationalizing the grisly nature of the offense. The staff responded with an eight-page comprehensive report on the case.
They reviewed the facts of the arrest and the history of the case. They talked with Ramsay's family. They provided advice from local child psychologists on explaining the case to children. They documented the history and struggles of Bar-Jonah and pulled together profiles of other notorious cannibalism cases. Graphic designers provided a visual timeline of the five-year-long case.
Executive editor Tim Strauss said the paper "covered this story responsibly and thoroughly." But it was not without difficulty reporters had to present some information that readers found impossible to comprehend.
"I had a hard time with the public response people calling us demons when I had such a tough time," said Skornogoski. "Coming in (to work) the day after charges were filed was really hard."
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Spot News Photography
Alan Diaz, The Associated Press, Elian
The photos that made Alan Diaz famous took only seconds to shoot, but months of preparation made them possible.
Diaz, a free-lance photographer, was hired by The Associated Press to provide daily photos of 5-year-old Elian Gonzales. Gonzales was pulled out of the Atlantic on an inner tube after the boat carrying him from Cuba sank. His mother died in the sinking, and the boy was at the center of a debate about whether to send him back to his father in Cuba or let him stay with his great-uncle in Miami.
For months, Diaz watched the boy and documented his life through pictures: on the way to school, playing in the yard, with his great-uncle. He became a fixture outside the fence of the great-uncle's house, and he developed a relationship with the family, especially the great-uncle.
"We talked about everything politics, coffee, sports, women until he was comfortable with me," said Diaz.
It was that comfort and trust that made Diaz's award-winning photos possible. On the morning of April 22, 2000, Diaz could hear the footsteps of agents running toward the house. He leaped over the fence, set his camera, and rushed in through an open door. Family members directed him to a room where Elian was being held in a closet, and Diaz turned just in time to see two INS agents coming into the room behind him.
"When it began, I did what I always do," said Diaz. "I started shooting photos."
The result of the next two minutes and the preceding months of preparation was what judges called "the single, definitive moment of this news event."
"Kudos to Alan Diaz for getting into the house when many, many others in the news world were trying," they wrote. "Obviously, he nurtured relationships with the family to get this electric insider shot and that's what great photojournalists do."
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Spot News Radio Reporting
Staff, CBS Radio News, The Supreme Court Decides
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We're just looking at this decision handed down. Let me just go to one of the key paragraphs. It says seven justices agree there are Constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Supreme Court. It's evident that any recount seeking to meet the December 12th date that's this date, of course will be unconstitutional. So, we reverse the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court ordering a recount to proceed.
CBS Radio News correspondent Barry Bagnato spoke those words in Washington, D.C., just moments after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision last year, effectively ending the presidential election vote recount in Florida.
CBS Radio News aired "The Supreme Court Decides" on Dec. 12. The live, hour-long special report covered the evolving story that ended the 2000 presidential election. As new elements became available, the listeners heard the story evolve through the reporting of correspondents Andrew Cohen, Howard Arenstein, David Dow, Bob Fuss, Peter Maer, Lou Miliano and Barry Bagnato.
Judges said that CBS News excellently covered some unusual spot news -- unlike most breaking news that involves unanticipated events, this story focused on an event that was eagerly anticipated by the entire nation.
"CBS News' coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Florida presidential recounts was not just an example of good spot news reporting: it was an excellent demonstration of the newsgathering process," said judges. "We hear the field reporter search for the 'what' of the decision and the legal analyst following up with the 'why' and 'how.' Live reports from various locations bring us many 'where' and 'who' elements. The 'when' is, essentially, 'now.'
"The CBS team moves from questions to answers, from complexity and confusion to clarity," the judges wrote. "Simply put, the team got it right and got it fast, with people in the right places at the right time. An excellent marriage of preparation and execution."
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Spot News Televsion Reporting (Network/Top 40)
Staff, CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell, Elian Reunited
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Balance is something that all journalists strive for, but it is difficult to achieve. This is especially true when a deadline looms. And the story is national. And all of your competitors also are covering it.
When federal agents raided a small home in Miami to recover young Elian Gonzales, the staff of CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell had to provide coverage that was complete, timely -- and balanced. They had just 12 hours to put together a series of packages to accompany footage of the early-morning raid, and it was difficult to get beyond the emotions of the story and provide meaningful reporting.
"Every picture had at least two different viewpoints," wrote senior broadcast producer Dick Jefferson in his nomination letter. "The challenge that day on the CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell was to let the pictures play and provide the words to put those pictures into context. It was a difficult balancing act up to the last minute. Which picture to show first? What were the fairest words to use?"
The winners said teamwork was the key that brought the series together. Besides the raid itself, their coverage included the perspectives of Cubans in Miami and Havana, a discussion of the psychological stress that such an ordeal could have on young Gonzales, and a look ahead at where the controversial story could lead next. It also examined the role of images in a saga with high emotions and a potential for violence.
Judges said they were surprised at how impressed they were with the piece.
"You can imagine how we had heard enough of Elian Gonzales and the characters around him," one judge wrote. "But when we watched the CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell: 'Elian Reunited' we were simply awestruck at the comprehensive coverage from every possible angle in a story that was still developing. The judges felt the crews who shot and captured Elian's raid did an outstanding job. The production and writing of the show captured all the big moments of the day and the emotions felt on all sides of the story."
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Staff, ABCNEWS.com, Dead at Sea: Tragedy Aboard the Russian Submarine Kursk
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"Dead at Sea: Tragedy Aboard the Russian Submarine Kursk" was reported by ABCNEWS.com on Aug. 15, six days before Norwegian divers confirmed that all 118 Russian sailors aboard the Kursk had indeed perished before rescuers could reach them. The award-winning story came only one day after the site initially published news of the tragedy.
On Aug. 14, ABCNEWS.com reported the Kursk's sinking in the Barents Sea, in Russian waters west of Norway and Finland. The sub was taking part in training exercises when explosions ripped a large hole in the front of the ship, causing it to sink to the ocean floor at a depth of approximately 350 feet.
Efforts to rescue the stranded crewmembers were hampered severely by the location of the Kursk in treacherous Arctic waters and its orientation. Not only was the sub nose-down into the ocean floor at an approximately 25-degree angle, but it also sat on a slope, making it nearly impossible for divers to properly attach and secure the rescue capsule. Additionally, the escape hatches were damaged, further complicating the coupling of a rescue capsule to the submarine; the capsule must be properly affixed to the hatch to equalize pressure between it and the interior of the submarine.
"ABCNEWS.com's coverage of the Kursk incident had already begun when we learned from U.S. intelligence sources that the 118 sailors aboard the submarine were most likely dead, even as international rescue efforts were underway," said Beau Brendler, editorial director for ABCNEWS.com.
"This breaking news story ... was produced within 90 minutes of learning the unfortunate details from U.S. intelligence sources, in a collaborative effort ... between ABCNEWS television and radio network reporters and ABCNEWS.com journalists in Moscow, Washington and elsewhere. An ABCNEWS.com investigation by David Ruppe also broke worldwide a development in the story indicating that two or more explosions were detected by military and civilian scientists before the submarine sank," said Brendler. "It was published first and exclusively worldwide on ABCNEWS.com (and later, on ABCNEWS television and radio broadcasts). The entire staff of ABCNEWS.com collaborated in the continuing coverage of the tragedy over a period of three months -- more than 30 reporters and producers and more than 20 graphic and multimedia artists."
Judges complimented ABCNEWS.com for its expert use of the World Wide Web in doing top-notch deadline reporting.
"From scooping other news organizations and providing comprehensive detail to offering great visuals, links, and a sidebar, 'Dead at Sea' incorporates the best features of the Web and deadline reporting," wrote the judges. "Neither lesser reporting on the Web or a print version without the accompanying links would do justice to this story."
"The story was one of more that 100 ABCNEWS.com researched, wrote and published on the event, along with video of the rescue operations, detailed interactive diagrams of the Oscar-II class submarine, interviews with relatives of the survivors, and developments in the rescue and salvage," said Brendler.