Awards

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In 1997 I won a national Clarion Award for Excellence in Journalism for a story I reported on about a woman who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had been denied health insurance coverage for a potentially life-saving treatment. The insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont, covered the treatment in a neighboring state - an hour's drive from where the woman lived.

When the story aired (alas, no audio archive exists), it evoked a strong reaction from hundreds of listeners who called or wrote the station - and the insurance company. About three days later, Blue Cross backed down and said it would provide coverage.

As it turned out, the company's reversal bought the woman patient an additional five years, after which she succumbed to the cancer.

Besides the company's quick turnaround - and the Clarion - this story was unique for me in a number of ways, not all of them positive. One small thing bugged me: the woman's husband in essence conned me into believing that he had stood behind his wife throughout her travails and that's what I reported.The truth as I later discovered was that he had left the marriage a few years earlier and he only recently moved back in. I felt manipulated.



I won several Edward R. Murrow awards in my career. The first was for a pair of stories I produced comparing two Vermont elementary schools situated less than ten miles from each other.

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At the time - 1997 - Stowe Elementary School - located in a prosperous ski resort town - spent more than $10,000 a year per student. Just down the road in the much poorer town of Eden, Vermont, the Eden Central School spent $2400 a year per student - less than a quarter of Stowe's average cost.

I spent a day in each school. I deliberately chose elementary schools because the kids were younger and, from what I had seen, the education experience  much less complicated than in high schools. 

The two stories explored the difference in quality of education as reflected in the day to day learning environments and resources available in each school. The Stowe school was fully wired for Internet and had the latest computer models, while Eden had a small  pile of broken Apple IIs. The Stowe kids had use of a shiny new gym and the latest textbooks but the Eden kids had no gym at all and had to make do with  history books that (in 1997) still had John F Kennedy as president.

I interviewed teachers, students, guidance counselors and the principals. I also happened upon some parents who volunteered at each school. One Stowe parent in particular was quite outspoken when I asked her what she would say to Eden parents about the Stowe school being able to spend four times per student what Eden could. Her answer was quite callous - kind of a "let them eat cake" sort of retort. Of course I used this quote in the story. Years later, long after the hub-bub had died down, her husband happened to be a guest on one of VPR's talk shows. He was still mad at me. "My wife wants her voice back," he said to me.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the reaction to the series was quite loud and quite mixed. As one of the state's richest communities, Stowe had an inordinate number of residents who were avid VPR listeners and supporters. Many did not appreciate the series, some cancelled their membership. On the other hand, the ACLU which was then preparing a landmark lawsuit against the state for its lack of equity in education funding, referenced the stories in its brief to the Vermont Supreme Court which in early 1998 handed down its historic Brigham Decision (named after elementary school student Amanda Brigham who lived in Whiting, like Eden one of the poorest communities in the state. The state legislature than enacted one of the most controversial laws in state history - known as Act 60 which through re-distribution sought to equalize state spending on education. Ironically, my reporting on Act 60 for NPR and VPR was heavily criticized by the ACLU and other supporters of the law and culminated in me bing branded a "right-wing journalist" by a local newspaper columnist.

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Here's another story - a much less controversial one - that I won a Murrow award for, this time not as the reporter but as producer, for Best Use of Sound. My reporter Vickie Carr profiled a unique program called the Fairy Godmother Project, which gives away prom dresses and accessories to teens who can't afford them. The trick was to seamlessly mix the audio from a three hour sales event into a three minute piece. Take a listen above.

The following series I produced also won Murrows. Please click on links to listen:

  -  2008 Part one of two part, 50 story series Fresh Water, Salt Water

 -   2009 Part two of series Fresh Water, Salt Water 2

-  2010 Ten part series on Special education in Massachusetts  Educating Everyone

- 2011 Four part series on commercial fishing in New England Rough Waters

 - 2011 Four part series on Sex Trafficking in New England

 

 

     

 

 

In 2007, my reporter Sean Corcoran and I won the prestigious duPont-Columbia Award for theBest in Broadcast Journalism. The du Pont is judged and awarded by the Columbiia School of Journalism and voted on by the same committee as awards the Pulitzer prize to print journalists. The year we won, we were the only radio station in the nation to win. So at perhaps the price of modesty, I like to think for that one year ute work represented the best radio journalism in the nation.

We won for a series of twenty stories called Two Cape Cods: Hidden Poverty on the Cape and Islands. The series grew out of a series of reports the station had been doing on the area's quality of public education. I had noticed a disturbing trend: there were consistently higher percentages of students receiving free lunch and reduced lunch than there were percentages of the population listed as below the poverty line. For example, the town of Barnstable - which contains the village of Hyannis, home of the Kennedy compound had an official poverty rate of less than 10%. Yet more than 40% of the kids at Barnstable schools were receiving free lunch which required that they came from households with incomes below the poverty line. Homelessness was also at a very high level. as were the number of full time, year-round undocumented workers earning far lessthan minimum wage. Food bank officials told us that they could no longer keep up demand. Doctors and particularly dentists said they could not begin to handle the number of Medicaid-eligible patients asking for their services.

At the time, our little station could barely afford to pay for even one full time reporter. But I appealed to my boss to allocate enough money to hire freelance reporter Sean Corcoran - to take on the poverty project full time. It took a few months but we were able to find the money to do so. Sean did the field reporting, I did the editing and production. We aired the series in the summer of 2006 - one story per week.

There was no reaction. Not a single response from anyone in our listening area. 

We decided to re-air the series in the fall only this time a story a day, every weekday for four weeks. This time the response was phenomenal. The series touched a nerve

WGBH still maintains the complete audio of Two Cape Cods on its site. You can listen to the series here.


PRNDI awards are given out by my fellow public radio news directors and editors for the year's best work The newsrooms I've managed have won several PRNDI's including for Best Newscast, Best News series. Best Features.

In 2005, my series "A Well-lighted Place: Gay Lives and Communities on Cape Cod" won a Best Feature PRNDI (as did our coverage of gay marriage). I say "my" series because "Well-lighted" was all my own reporting (with help from then intern Elsa Heidorn, now a reporter at WCAI) and turned out to be my last major project as a reporter. My job at WCAI was as program director which limited the amount of time I could spend on actual reporting. I continued to file stories semi-regularly to NPR (being at the time the only program director in the country still filing to NPR). But my bosses at WGBH and I agreed that I should limit my own reporting.