SDX 2001 Awards Gallery
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Over 100,000)
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Under 100,000)
Television (Network/Top 25)
Television (All Other Markets)
Standards under pressure
By Ferrell Wellman
Covering a major breaking news event is the ultimate challenge. It’s the decathlon of journalism. Success depends on our ability to excel in a variety of demanding skills. Those who master them become valuable resources the public can use for accurate information.
These powerful stories require us to be tough-minded as we often work under the most adverse conditions with the clock as our enemy. Unexpected news, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, creates an additional obstacle to overcome as we seek facts. Sources we usually rely on can’t help us, because they’re also struggling to collect accurate information.
On occasion, we become overwhelmed by the enormity of the events we cover. We must overcome our urge to report or photograph everything at once. Events such as these require us to step back for a moment, take a deep professional breath, collect ourselves and then begin the process of deciding what information our viewers, readers or listeners need to receive first.
Print journalists must offer a rich narrative to put the event in context. Photographers try to capture the defining moment that stays frozen in our memories. Broadcasters providing live coverage must offer a calm, reasoned approach to their reporting. Live interviews with reliable sources, eyewitnesses or participants can lead to mistakes that are difficult to correct as the public becomes smothered with information.
Deadline reporting also creates situations in which journalists must take “measured risks.” We’re not immune to dangers, but where is the invisible line between reporting important information and risking our personal safety? Should we cross the line? By how much?
When we evaluate our deadline reporting, several guidelines can be used to measure its quality. The most important and obvious standard is the amount of accurate, timely information we gave to the public. Was our reporting clear and understandable? Did we report the news in context? How resourceful and creative were we in pursuing the news?
The reporting should also have been sensitive. Did we treat victims, or grief stricken relatives and friends with understanding and compassion?
Deadline reporting creates enormous competitive situations. These stories can be “career makers.” Did we remember to maintain a balance in our coverage as we worked to beat the competition?
Finally, did we report news with value?
Ferrell Wellman is on the faculty of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky.
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The Associated Press
The Associated Press, acclaimed for its efficiency,
was put to the test when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit its
nerve centers in New York and Washington, D.C.
Newspapers across the country headlined their front pages with AP national writer Jerry Schwartz’s article “World Trade Centers Collapse in Terrorist Attack; Washington Hit by Apparently Coordinated Attack.”
As uncertainty and ever-changing facts and figures flooded writers’ ears and notepads, Schwartz tied together speculation and confirmation:
Mounting an audacious attack against the United States, terrorists crashed two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and brought down the twin 110-story towers Tuesday morning. A jetliner also slammed into the Pentagon as the seat of government itself came under attack.
Hundreds were apparently killed aboard the jets, and untold numbers were feared dead in the rubble. Thousands were injured in New York alone.
A fourth jetliner, also apparently hijacked, crashed in Pennsylvania as the part of the closely timed series of attacks.
President Bush ordered a full-scale investigation to “hunt down the folks who committed this act.”
Papers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Casper Star
Tribune and Topeka Capital-Journal relied on Schwartz’s accounts
in the extra additions they printed the day of the attacks.
“This was truly the first draft of history, written and reported in havoc,” said Jon Wolman, AP vice president and executive editor. “Amid the fear and confusion that gripped a nation suddenly at war with terrorism, citizens turned in the earliest hours to the nation’s newspapers for the first comprehensive explanation of what was happening. The nation’s newspapers turned to The Associated Press.”
The story was incredible enough, but photos from the scenes of the attacks put readers in the center of the chaos. Photographers Carmen Taylor, Jim Collins, Richard Drew and Suzanne Plunkett captured the images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, people jumping and running from the buildings, and the structures crumbling to the ground.
Constant news spread across the AP wire. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the immediate aftermath was one of the biggest breaking stories the AP has ever covered. As one event succeeded the next, the news service broke developments to its members in two flashes, 25 AP NewsAlerts and 18 bulletins in the first day.
The coverage included interviews with survivors and law enforcement officials. Reactions from President Bush and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliana captured the local and national impacts of the attacks. Schwartz’s article focused on the chaos and dismay on the streets of New York and Washington, but it ends with the last moments of one man’s life aboard one of the hijacked planes:
Before the crash in Pennsylvania, an emergency dispatcher in Westmoreland County, Pa., received a cell phone call at 9:58 a.m. from a man who said he was a passenger locked in the bathroom of United Flight 93, said dispatch supervisor Glenn Cramer.
“We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked!” Cramer quoted the man saying. The man told dispatchers the plane “was going down. He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane, and we lost contact with him,” Cramer said.
Mark Scolforo, Jennifer Gish, Kathy Stevens, John Bugbee and Bill Cahir, The York (Pa.) Dispatch/Sunday News, The Stankewicz Case
When he moved out of his mother’s home on a quiet residential street in Johnson City, Tenn. in December, most of William Michael “Mike” Stankewicz’s neighbors were glad to see it.
Since the time he arrived on Camelot Circle, after serving out the maximum of a federal prison sentence, Stankewicz had changed their lives.
Police visits to his home became routine.
Neighborhood children were so frightened by him their parents issued strict new safety guidelines, and some bought home security systems.
They worried that it might end badly...
Neighbors, ex-wives, even federal lawmakers lived in fear of Stankewicz, waiting for the day he would fulfill the potential they all saw.
That day came Feb. 2, 2001, when Stankewicz, machete
in hand, entered North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School and
injured 11 students, two teachers and the principal.
With two days before their next publication, the reporters at The York Dispatch/Sunday News prepared to cover the event in a sensitive way.
The staff wrote a collection of stories about Stankewicz and his attack. The articles covered Stankewicz’s past and his time-bomb reputation, as well as updates on victims and places where community members could seek counseling.
The detailed reporting included an interview with a 6-year-old victim and her family:
Alicia Lake turns 6 today.
But unlike other birthday girls, Alicia isn’t concerned about presents, candles, or cake. Instead, the petite, blue-eyed blonde asks her parents what people eat in jail, what they do there and how long they stay.
Before the attack, Stankewicz had been trying to get
his Russian ex-wife deported. Unsuccessful, Stankewicz said he targeted
the school because his ex-wife’s children once went there.
The Dispatch located Stankewicz’s former wife and her daughters and published a profile on their life with him.
Laris Anatolylevna Ohachinskaya loved her new home in York County when she arrived in 1995 with her two small daughters, Olya and Alexandera.
“Everything was so bright and beautiful. I was happy,” she said.
But what seemed so ideal began to unravel almost as soon as they were married in a civil ceremony in Baltimore County.
Given that he’d said how much he loved children, his former wife said she found it odd that he had no photographs around the house of his own children.
“I found a picture of his daughter. I wanted to hang it. He grabbed this and threw this in the garbage. He said she’s not my daughter,” Larisa said.
With the two-day deadline, The Dispatch was able to
report Principal Norina Bentzel’s first words after she awoke
in the intensive-care unit at a local hospital.
The coverage spread to more than eight pieces, including one detailing the school’s security system and procedures implemented immediately after the attack. The Dispatch also spoke with another local principal who was helping the elementary school students deal with the tragedy.
David Vodila always thought he’d be dispatched somewhere else.
Three years ago, driven by large-scale incidents of school violence, the Red Lion Area Senior High School principal received training to deal with crisis in schools.
He could be called upon to travel anywhere in the country to help guide a school through tragedy.
A call he hoped would never come.
On Friday, Vodila was dispatched to assist a school in crisis.
It was one of his own.
When news of Stankewicz’s attack hit The Dispatch
newsroom, staffers knew they had their work cut out for them. The
assailant was behind bars, the adult victims were difficult to contact
and they did not want to further traumatize the young victims with
in-depth interviews. But The Dispatch was able to cover the sensitive
topic from a variety of angles.
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Nancy Gibbs, TIME Magazine, If You Want to Humble an Empire
But when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 sent New
York and Washington into chaos, TIME Editor at Large Nancy Gibbs
remembers receiving very different instructions from Jim Kelly,
the magazine’s managing editor. “He suggested that there
was no need to be speculating about who might have done this or
how the U.S. would respond or get into any kind of speculation that
would be overtaken by events as the days and weeks unfolded,”
said Gibbs. “ ‘Just tell the story of what happens today,’
And that’s what she did. Pulling together reports from TIME correspondents across the country, Gibbs put together more than 10,000 words for a special edition of the magazine. In “If You Want to Humble an Empire,” she captures the desperation and disgust of the American people on Sept. 11:
The first crash has changed everything; the second changed it again. Anyone who thought the first was an accident now knew better. This was not some awful, isolated episode, not Oklahoma City, not even the first World Trade Center bombing. Now this felt like war ...
Gibbs puts readers on the hijacked flights and then fast-forwards to scenes of survivors, relief efforts and candlelight vigils. The story ends with thoughts on the new unity that resulted from the attacks:
... once we have begun to explain this to our children and to ourselves, what will we do? What else but build new cathedrals, and if they are bombed, build some more. Because faith is in the act of building, not the building itself, and no amount of terror can keep us from scraping the sky.
Thomas E. Franklin, The Record, Hackensack, N.J., Firemen Flag Raising
The sharp red, white and blue of the American flag
played a harsh contrast to the muddled gray rubble of the World
Thomas E. Franklin, a photographer for The Record in Hackensack, N.J., spent his morning shooting distance shots of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks across the Hudson River from New Jersey.
Hoping to get closer to the scene, Franklin was ferried over to the wreckage by a tugboat captain who had been shuttling survivors from the attacks.
With Canon in hand, Franklin battled the heavy showers of dust that flooded the frantic streets of New York City and snapped continuous shots of the crumbling towers, hurried workers and any and all signs of relief. Franklin later described the scene:
Spread out in front of me was 200 yards of burnt-out cars, ambulances and firetrucks that were crushed and covered with soot. ... I saw money, notebooks, financial reports, couch cushions and shoes.
After taking an hourlong break to catch his breath
and get a drink, Franklin returned to Ground Zero between 4 p.m.
and 5 p.m.
When he shot the image of the New York City firefighters raising the American flag among the World Trade Center debris, Franklin captured much more than just the action of the firefighters; he captured the hearts and souls of the American people.
“The shot immediately felt important to me,” Franklin said soon after the photograph’s publication. “It told of more than just death and destruction. It said something to me about the strength of the American people and about the courage of all the firefighters, who, in the face of this horrible disaster, had a job to do in battling the unimaginable. It had drama, spirit and courage in the face of disaster.”
Working the scene with repeated shots, Franklin returned to The Record office that evening to turn in his film. Director of Photography Rich Gigli was one of the first to see the view the captivating photograph.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s the image.”
Created in 1/640 of a second on Franklin’s camera, the photograph has become an icon for many Americans. It captured the overpowering sting felt by the country and the small sigh of relief that the nation was still standing.
“Everybody just needed a shot in the arm,” said Dan McWilliams, FDNY firefighter of Ladder Company 157 and one of the three men in the photo, in an attempt to explain why they hoisted the flag.
The Record was inundated with requests for the photo from citizens who found inspiration in the indestructible stars and stripes.
“The photo picked up steam around the world the coming days, becoming an icon of sorts,” said Frank Scandale, editor of The Record. “The letters, telephone calls and e-mails increased to about 1,000 per day. A total of 30,000 requests for the photo came into The Record. War veterans, firefighters and children sent the same message of thanks and appreciation for Franklin’s photo, which many said meant the difference between depression and hope.”
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WNYC Radio News Department, WNYC Radio New York, Sept. 11: A Local Radio Station Responds
Listen to a portion of this entry (requires QuickTime)
When chaos hit the streets of New York City on Sept. 11, WNYC was quick to go live and cover the tragedy as it unfolded.
“WNYC believes it was the first radio station in the nation to provide a live eyewitness account of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center,” Director of Communication Emma Dunch said. “Because of our close proximity, just blocks away in Lower Manhattan, morning news anchor Mark Hilan literally felt the first explosion.”
Sirens and falling debris accompany the reports. Reporters grab interviews off the streets. Witnesses describe the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and people jumping out of the windows. One reporter describes being up to her knees in fallen office supplies from the mangled World Trade Center towers.
The station switched broadcast to AM 820 after WNYC’s FM antennas were destroyed atop the World Trade Center.
“As the local affiliate station of National Public Radio, we usually air our local reports and features in between the national news magazines and newscasts,” Dunch said, “but we broke format for Sept. 11 and provided non-stop coverage of the attacks with live reports from our local reporters and producers, also anchoring NPR’s national coverage because the site was completely locked down to media and the public.”
Post-Sept. 11, WNYC continued its coverage of the attacks. Feature reports detailed the city’s rescue efforts and the discouraging efforts of firefighters who were unable to find survivors. The station also covered the emotional toll of the attacks, encouraging listeners to call in and express their grief and opinions.
The tragedy challenged WNYC’s small news team, which only consists of four full-time reporters. Interns, producers, production assistants and administrative staff helped the news department to meet the outstanding demands of the reports.
“We believe our entry demonstrates that WNYC surpassed its numerous limitations and fulfilled its commitment to covering the tragedy from every angle – keeping our listeners not only informed, but engaged with critical thinking and analysis,” Dunch said.
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Staff, Dateline NBC, Attack on America
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When planes crashed into the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, NBC initially took viewers back to the 1993 truck bombing of the towers, which killed 6 and injured 1,500. The station asked: “Could this really be happening again?”
The answer came soon enough.
Live shots of New Yorkers fleeing the falling towers soon gave way to reporters scrambling to make sense of the tragedy. What exactly had happened? Who was responsible? And, most importantly – what was the death toll?
In the segment “Minute by Minute,” Dateline NBC replayed the video of the second plane hitting the south tower, reiterating to viewers that the tragedy was indeed real.
An American Airline 767 with 92 people on board was hijacked on its flight from Boston to Los Angeles, becoming the emblem of mass murder ...
The impact was devastating: The airliner, punching through the skin of the huge tower, another rain of glass, concrete and terror ...
It was now clear that this was no accident. The first tower had also been hit by a hijacked passenger jet – a United flight that had also taken off from Boston that was bound for L.A.
The attacks left New York virtually paralyzed – tunnels and bridges linking the city shut down, subways closed, telephone lines jammed, cell phones overloading as frantic callers tried to contact loved ones.
NBC gave special attention to detail, interviewing survivors and giving a review of the day’s events.
This morning, on a scale beyond belief, Americans experienced what it’s like to feel truly vulnerable, to realize when someone is willing to die for a cause, we are all potential targets.
The news team covered the overwhelming demand for
nurses, doctors, and surgeons and the long lines of people waiting
to donate blood. Government officials gave pleas for calm and cooperation
while New Yorkers stood on the streets in disbelief.
The cameras of the NBC team were there to report people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to safety. The station covered the press conference where then-mayor Rudy Giuliani gave Americans the first estimate of the number of causalities.
NBC News also covered the attacks in Washington.
The terrorist target was the nerve center of the United States military. An explosion ripped through the building that since World War II has symbolized America’s power ...
As firefighters rushed to put out the flames, America learned that the Pentagon had indeed taken a direct hit, not from a corporate jet but from another hijacked plane ...
Dateline NBC’s detailed reporting captured the
shock of a nation and supplied viewers with as much information
as was possible. Judges were impressed with the network’s
ability to put the limited information into perspective.
“Dateline NBC aired a three-hour report that placed the events of Sept. 11 into context,” they wrote. “It was an impressive performance at the end of the most chaotic day in the history of American broadcast journalism.”
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Staff, News 8 Austin, Sept. 11: Austin, Texas
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The news team at News 8 Austin had their work cut out for them as they attempted to report and localize a story more than 1,700 miles away from their offices.
As the World Trade Center towers crumbled on Sept. 11, News Director Kevin Benz and Assistant News Director Michael Pearson put their combined 40-plus years of experience to the test.
Giving constant updates from the Austin airport, the 24-hour news station reported throughout the day on local impacts of the national tragedy.
“News 8 was the only Central Texas station committed to telling Austinites about how their lives had immediately changed,” Benz said. “We encouraged calm, we chose our words carefully and we looked for help in consoling our community.”
Interviews with local government officials and community members kept viewers up to date. The News 8 team also reported closings, cancellations and postponements from schools, malls and other community organizations.
One segment captured the reactions and concerns of people from the University of Texas. Tears and looks of disbelief were on the faces of shocked students. Some professors offered political commentary on the attacks and what steps the Austin area should concern itself with next.
The News 8 team also carried a telephone interview with Sylvia Shihadeh, president of American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee.
“This is why we’re here, to cover the big stories, to give local perspective, to calm fears, to encourage patience and understanding, to discourage rage and discrimination,” Benz said. “Discrimination is based upon a lack of knowledge. I believe we were able to shed light on the culture of Muslims living in Central Texas. We let them speak of their patriotism and horror. We acknowledged our biases and asked people to face their fear and open their mind. I hope we made a difference.”
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Staff, Tampa Bay Online, Shooting of A Tampa Police Officer
Text from this entry
The scene around him was tense, but Tampa Tribune photographer Cliff McBride crouched carefully in some bushes and continued to shoot pictures of a Tampa police officer who, minutes earlier, had been fatally wounded by a fleeing suspect.
On the morning of July 6, 2001, officer Lois Marrero was shot three times while pursuing a suspect in a bank robbery. Another officer held Marrero, comforting her at the scene, but Marrero was pronounced dead at 11:55 a.m. at a Tampa General Hospital.
McBride had been at the scene of the bank robbery when he heard a frantic call that an officer was down. He quickly called his paper and got the address of the shooting and was the first photojournalist on the scene. His quick response set the tone for TBO.com’s comprehensive coverage of the shooting and the days and events that followed.
Peter Howard, TBO.com news and special projects leader, said Tampa Bay Online “leveraged the power of its converged news operations to provide the most up-to-date, comprehensive and accurate reporting.” TBO.com operates in a converged newsroom alongside The Tampa Tribune and WFLA News Channel 8. All three are owned by Media General of Richmond, Va.
Together, the entire content staff offered on the Web exclusive video from the scene; they updated stories throughout the day; they created a photo gallery; and they set up message boards so concerned citizens could express their thoughts and feelings. The coverage came from every medium – print stories complimented by graphics, photos, video and audio.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the suspect took a hostage. He then took refuge in an apartment and later killed himself. TBO.com reporters worked throughout the day and evening to chronicle the tragic events. Immediate coverage included a profile of Marrero; stories from witnesses; an account from the hospital where Marrero was carried; and reaction from the police department, friends and neighbors.
Follow-up coverage examined tributes to the slain officer; prosecution of a second robbery participant; funeral details; a roll call of other Tampa police officers killed in the line of duty; and an interview with the first police officer to reach Marrero’s side after the shooting.
As is usually the case, the breaking news story brought to light other, complex issues that the journalists continued to pursue in the days and weeks following the shooting. Howard said one ongoing issue centered on the debate over pension and death benefits for same-sex partners. TBO.com producers later archived many of the pension benefits stories and created a resource for the community.
In covering the news story, producers faced several difficult choices. While the suspect remained in an apartment with possible hostages, producers had to decide how much information to publish and when to publish the deceased officer’s name. They also had to deal with improper use of the message boards that had been created; some site visitors used the boards to “post derogatory comments about gays and lesbians,” wrote Howard.
Judges said, “This entry is an exemplary example of converged journalism at work to bring an important story to a local community. Tampa Bay Online used the combined resources of its co-owned news outlets to present the kind of story that any of those outlets alone would be unable to present. Very thorough, complete coverage of a tragic event.”
TBO.com content manager Jim Riley said, “Breaking news is a key component to what media Web sites should offer. And I’m very proud of the way TBO.com, News Channel 8 and The Tampa Tribune delivered this story online – quickly and in depth.”
Howard agreed. “As with any event, TBO.com is committed to presenting the news to its users as quickly, accurately and completely as possible. Receiving a national award as distinguished as Sigma Delta Chi helps reinforce that you are focused on your mission.”
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CNET News.com, Microsoft’s Reprieve
When a federal appeals court handed down its June
2001 decision in the Microsoft Antitrust case, Microsoft got a reprieve
and a little breathing room. The CNET News.com news staff, however,
got put in the hot seat as it delivered on a promise to provide
readers with “tech news first.”
A news bulletin reporting the court’s ruling quickly appeared on the site. It was followed by more breaking news, reaction and analysis of the decision.
The 125-page ruling was a complex one that vacated an order by a lower court, which had called for the breakup of Microsoft. But the appeals court also determined that the company did maintain an illegal monopoly with its Windows operating system. The appeals court also said that the trial judge should be removed from the case because he “seriously tainted the proceedings.”
News.com’s story provided a summary of the court’s ruling and brief analysis. A sidebar succinctly listed all four issues before the court and the ruling on each one. The story also included links to the site’s past coverage of the case.
More coverage emerged during the day, including an analysis of the decision regarding trial judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. Twenty pages of the appeals court ruling commented on Jackson’s actions outside the courtroom. News.com staffers examined Jackson’s past relationship with the appeals court and his controversial career in the 20 years since President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the federal bench.
Writers also offered commentary on what might be ahead for Microsoft, based on the appeals court ruling. That commentary centered on possible controversy involving the bundling of software features in Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released Windows XP operating system.
Other coverage included the reaction of competitors to the decision; a story about the decision’s affect on Microsoft stock prices; an examination of Microsoft’s former browser rival, Netscape; and the posting of the complete text of the court’s decision.
Reaction to the Microsoft reports was positive, with readers saying that they “appreciated the timely, comprehensive reporting.”
And so did the Sigma Delta Chi Award judges, who wrote that the “winning entry displayed an enormous wealth of information and in-depth analysis presented very shortly after the ruling of a federal court. ... This is a commendable use of the Internet as a medium for distributing news, and in-depth analysis of a complicated, breaking legal story with implications for anyone who owns and uses a personal computer.”
News.com is a leading technology news Web site and is now in its sixth year. The site is updated around the clock by a staff of more than 70 reporters and editors, with offices on the U.S. West Coast and East Coast, and in Europe and Asia.
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