ABC, CNN, Other Nets Share Honors

Oct 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Debra Kaufman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Arguably, the Murrow Awards night belongs to NBC, which won top honors for overall excellence, hard news feature and newscast, among other categories. But ABC, CNN, ESPN, Univision and Court TV all have something to celebrate on Oct. 16. These networks have been honored with Murrow Awards for excellence in a wide variety of reporting categories.

With Univision’s Murrow Award win for best news series, the Radio-Television News Directors Association tipped its hat to the growing clout of Spanish-language news media. Though Univision has won other RTNDA regional honors, this represents the first time a Spanish-language network has won a national Murrow Award.

Univision’s win is for a three-part series about child labor in Latin America that aired in October and November 2005. Univision’s “Primer Impacto” newsmagazine ran the series “Angeles en el infierno” (“Angels in Hell”), uncovering extensive child labor abuses in Latin America. The production team traveled to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico to present firsthand accounts of exploited children. Maria Lopez-Alvarez, VP and co-director of Univision Network News, noted that “Angels in Hell” uncovered a child labor story closer to home but much less well known than the more frequently covered story of Asian sweatshops using child labor. Part of the Univision Communications media company, Univision Network reaches 98 percent of U.S. Hispanic households.

ESPN snagged two Murrow Awards this year, one for feature reporting and another for sports reporting. The feature reporting honor is for a profile of Clay Dyer, a competitor on the bass fishing circuit who was born without arms or legs. The other Murrow is for the story of Terry Fox, a young man with cancer who attempted to run the breadth of Canada in 1980 to raise money for children with cancer.

“Many people are forged by their experiences with sports, where sports raises the stakes of their lives or helps them through a crisis,” said ESPN correspondent Chris Connelly. “Our audiences have gravitated to these stories and emotionally connected to some of the people portrayed.”

The story of Mr. Fox, whose “Marathon of Hope” was cut short in September 1980 by the return of his cancer, is familiar in Canada, and ESPN producer Dan Arruda was passionate about telling it to a U.S. audience. Mr. Arruda was able to gain the confidence of Mr. Fox’s family, getting access to a treasure trove of vintage documentary footage. Mr. Arruda paired that with contemporary images of many of the landmarks of Mr. Fox’s run. Mr. Fox died in June 1981, but the international Terry Fox Run every September is now the world’s largest cancer fund-raiser.

“Terry was a tough guy, a cancer survivor, who ran a marathon every day,” Mr. Connelly said. “He had heroism foisted upon him, and his memory is maintained in a humble, classic way.”

The Clay Dyer story is another one born out of a producer’s dedication to see it told. “It wouldn’t have come to anything if my producer Andy Tennant hadn’t seen how amazing the story is,” said Mr. Connelly, who also credited Mr. Tennant with “a fantastic visual sense and a great way of working with people.” Mr. Dyer has taught himself to tie lures and cast them, as well as everything else a competitive fisherman does. “Clay has never won a professional tournament, but he keeps smiling and keeps on going,” Mr. Connelly said. “Champions on the circuit find him the most inspirational fisherman there is.”

ABC News took the Murrow Award for investigative reporting for its “20/20” segment “Cruelty to Owners,” a hard-hitting report about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which in some towns has been confiscating and selling animals and keeping the money. The story, anchored by investigative reporter John Stossel, uncovered this activity at more than one SPCA, and revealed that the SPCAs are all separately run organizations and not affiliated with the better-known ASPCA.

The “20/20” team followed one case in which the New Jersey SPCA office accused Joe Stuebing of starving his horses, although Mr. Stuebing claimed that the horses were sick. The local SPCA filed charges of inhumane treatment and took custody of Mr. Stuebing’s horses, which because of their valuable bloodlines were worth almost $1 million. Mr. Stuebing eventually regained custody of the horses.

In a second segment of “Cruelty to Owners,” Mr. Stossel investigated the Dallas SPCA and focused on Dave Garcia, who was in charge of rescue operations there. Mr. Garcia, under whose leadership penalties against animal owners reportedly quadrupled, had a hand in the passing of a Texas law preventing owners from fighting an SPCA confiscation.

“20/20” went along with Mr. Garcia on the raid of a kennel that was home to 120 show dogs. Mr. Garcia and his SPCA team took custody of all the dogs, citing “deplorable conditions,” without their knowing that the “20/20” cameraman was a veterinarian who saw nothing amiss with the animals’ condition.

Faced with only two hours to prepare for her court case, the dogs’ owner decided to settle and gave the SPCA her dogs, some of which were adopted and a few of which were put down.

CNN won for best news documentary with “CNN Presents: Autism Is a World,” and for videography with “Candlepin Bowling-Losing the Lanes.” The documentary on autism, a disorder that is still shrouded in mystery, profiles Sue Rubin, a young woman who was diagnosed as retarded until she was 13. Through facilitated communication, Ms. Rubin has emerged as an intelligent young woman who is currently a junior in college.

“Autism Is a World” follows Ms. Rubin’s struggles to do the ordinary things of life with the help of her round-the-clock team of caregivers. Viewers see her in class, taking trips to the grocery store and even on an adventure to bet on the horses at the Santa Anita racetrack in California. As an advocate for disability rights, Ms. Rubin writes a speech for a conference on autism.

The emotional climax focuses on the departure of her two longtime staffers who have become her friends, a blow that hits Ms. Rubin hard. By the end of the documentary, it is clear that although she has gone far to overcome the obstacles of her disorder, she still lives in the world of autism.

“Candlepin Bowling-Losing the Lanes” is the vivid portrayal, without narration, of the loss of the traditional New England candlepin bowling lanes in West Roxbury, Mass., as the alleys face the wrecking ball to build a new post office. Using smaller pins and balls, candlepin bowling has been part of the fabric of life in this New England town, and the story-told through the point of view of the lanes’ owner, a league bowler and a blue-collar worker-depicts the loss of tradition and a neighborhood institution.

The videography captures the images of a tradition that’s fading away, and the players decry the loss of venues where they can play their favorite sport.

Court TV also was honored by the RTNDA with a Murrow Award, for its Web site, CourtTV.com. This is the first time the Court TV network has won an RTNDA Award.

Recognized in particular for its interactive content, CourtTV.com provides extensive information on legal news and ongoing trial coverage as well as a range of in-depth investigative reporting, blogs and more entertaining features such as “Stupid Crimes & Misdemeanors,” which regales readers with some of the most bizarre crimes that people have committed. “Fluorescent Justice” is a blog about the legal system in New York’s night court. Court TV Extra, the network’s online trial-streaming subscription service, is also found on the site.