Murrow Awards Honor the Best

Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The numbers tell the story.
The Radio-Television News Directors Association received 2,770 entries from 520 news organizations this year in contention for its annual Edward R. Murrow Awards. The number of entries is up 20 percent from last year’s 2,303 submissions from 511 news organizations, a sign that competition is alive and well.
“It just shows that stations consider [the awards] important and felt they had done a lot of good work last year, and to our credit they felt the Murrow Awards were the proper venue,” said Bob Salsberg, chairman of RTNDA and broadcast editor for the Associated Press in Boston. “I think stations make these decisions pretty carefully and enter because they felt they have some strong [content].”
Those who have won the coveted prize have promoted the achievement on-air, in teases and in opens, he said. “In a day and age when we have consolidation and budget cuts and people are being squeezed and newsrooms are doing more with less and sometimes less people, it’s a great morale booster,” he said.
Competition is stiff because national winners are chosen from stations and networks that have already won a regional award. Stories that win must have an emotional and visual hook, said Dave Busiek, the news director at Hearst-Argyle-owned CBS affiliate KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa. He has been a Murrow Awards judge for more than 10 years.
“I want something where they really thought about the visuals as well, since TV is such a visual medium,” he said.
Each submission is judged according to three criteria: content, creativity and execution on a scale of 1 to 10. Two to three judges vote in each category and their scores are averaged. “As a judge I appreciate how hard these are to win, because first you have to win the regional. I look for something that is out of the ordinary, and I have seen a lot after 27 years,” Mr. Busiek said.
That includes a piece by “60 Minutes II” correspondent Bob Simon called “The Lost Boys” that ran in 2002 and was included in CBS’s submission in the category of Overall Excellence. The network will receive the award Oct. 13.
“It is one of the most compelling stories I have ever seen on what [the lost boys] went through in Africa and the transition to America. So it is more than just about them. It’s about us,” said Mr. Busiek, who was a judge in the Overall Excellence category.
He also knows firsthand how hard a Murrow Award is to corral. KCCI is receiving its first national Murrow this year for photography. The winning piece, “Garage Band,” is about a group of friends who have gathered for more than 20 years on the first Friday of the month in an auto repair shop just north of Des Moines to play their banjos, guitars and fiddles.
The Murrow Award is the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism, and in its 32-year history has become one of the most prestigious accolades in the television news business, in part because it is given to broadcasters by broadcasters.
“I think what is particularly meaningful is that it’s an award from your peers,” said Barbara Cochran, president of RTNDA. The regional awards are judged by RTNDA members, then board members evaluate the regional winners for the national awards.
The awards were first presented in 1971, six years after the death of the legendary broadcaster for which they are named. At that time, the Murrow name was attached only to the top award and was called the Murrow Award for Documentary. That award is now known as the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence. Winners in categories including spot news and investigative reporting received what were then known as RTNDA Awards and by 1988 became known as Edward R. Murrow Awards as well.
Another significant change came in 1995, when the RTNDA added network awards to its recognition of small- and large-market TV stations in each category.
RTNDA has added some new categories over the past few years, including a writing award in 1999 and an Internet award for overall Web site excellence in 2001. RTNDA expects to expand the Internet award soon to include other categories, Ms. Cochran said.
The national Murrow awards are given to radio and TV stations in 13 categories, in the network, large-market and small-market divisions.
While the association traditionally recognizes only one winner in each category’s division, in 2002 the board made the unusual decision to honor four local stations in New York for their coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They were ABC-owned WABC-TV, NBC-owned WNBC-TV, CBS-owned WCBS-TV and Tribune-owned WB station WPIX-TV.
RTNDA also presented a special recognition in 1996 to the TV stations in Oklahoma City for their coverage of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, while Griffin Television-owned KWTV in Oklahoma City won in 1996 for Spot News Coverage.