It’s like the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play.
That’s the advice several of this year’s Murrow Award winners and judges offer to TV professionals.
They also shared tips on how stations can win Murrow awards, from pre-assigning roles for breaking news stories to giving reporters more time to work on big pieces, to keeping a story log of their best work so they know what to enter.
NBC affiliate KTUU-TV in Anchorage, Alaska, won the first year it entered, for overall excellence for a small-market station, and will be taking home that award Oct. 13.
“Here’s my advice: Just enter,” said News Director John Tracy. “Spend time on your letter. Let the judges know what to expect. Include in the letter the background information about the efforts you took to get the story. It also helps to include what impact the story had on your audience or community.”
Stations should be picky and send in only entries that “go above and beyond the ordinary,” he said.
Bob Salsberg, chairman of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and broadcast editor for the Associated Press in Boston, echoed Mr. Tracy’s suggestion. “Make sure production values are good. Make sure the writing is good,” he said.
Ensuring the crew has ample time to work on a story is critical, said news directors at Chicago’s NBC-owned WMAQ-TV and Des Moines, Iowa, CBS affiliate KCCI-TV, both of which are winners this year.
KCCI is winning for photography for its “Garage Band” piece about a group of friends who gather once a month in an auto repair shop just north of Des Moines to play their banjos, guitars and fiddles.
The crew recognized the story’s potential and asked for a few more days to shoot and produce, said Dave Busiek, news director at KCCI.
“When you know you have something that is good, give the crew time to work on it,” he said.
That advice applies to investigative work too, said Frank Whittaker, VP of news and news director at WMAQ, which will receive an award for “Code Blue, Code Red,” a yearlong investigation in which reporter Dave Savini and producer Michelle Youngerman conducted background checks on 18,000 paramedics and firefighters and found that 139 had drunken driving records and another 200 had criminal records, while 80 percent of cases involving a police officer arresting another for drunken driving were thrown out of court.
Mr. Whittaker granted the crew additional time and manpower to comb through records. “I thought it was a great story and they were really onto something when they first started uncovering these convictions, so I said, `Let’s make this a big investigation and not rush it on the air because we need a sweeps piece.”’
He added, “I think once you recognize there is a potentially great story you are onto, give it the time it needs to develop.”
That is the kind of story that not only wins awards, but illustrates to viewers that you can give them something no other station can, he said.
Having a plan for breaking news is essential, said Katherine Green, news director for Fox-owned WTTG-TV in Washington, which is being recognized for its continuing coverage of the sniper attacks last fall.
“The key for us is that we go into this sort of triage situation where we create a very controlled form of communication between our assignment desk, our producing core, our control room and our technical operations center where feeds come in,” she said.