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WBUR Nabs Another Honor

BU’s NPR station takes award for tunnel collapse coverage

WBUR received an award for breaking news coverage of the Big Dig tunnel collapse, says John Davidow, WBUR news director and managing editor.

When his phone rang just after three one morning last summer, John Davidow assumed the news would be bad. “It’s never good news when I get those calls,” says Davidow, news director and managing editor of WBUR, Boston University’s National Public Radio station.

He was right. The night before, a ceiling panel in a Big Dig tunnel had collapsed, killing a Jamaica Plain mother of three. “You go into breaking news mode — what’s the next piece of information we need?” Davidow says.

The day’s coverage of the collapse garnered WBUR a first-place award in the breaking news category from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public radio journalism. The award, announced in late July, is part of the only national contest that recognizes public radio reporting at the local level.

“It’s important for public radio to be fresh for the listeners, so they don’t feel like they need to go elsewhere for information,” says Davidow. “We covered as much as we could as fast as we could for the listeners.”

The PRNDI award is the latest of a slew of honors this year for WBUR, which previously received awards from the Associated Press and the New England Radio-Television News Directors Association.

This time, the station was recognized for stories broadcast on July 11, 2006, on programs such as NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered and for its hourly updated newscasts.

“This award shows that we can be nimble and put together a quality product while the news is happening,” says Dave Shaw, senior producer for Morning Edition, who organized the broadcasts, starting with coverage of a 5 a.m. press conference. The news department team was called in, including Bob Oakes, assistant news director, and reporter Steve Brown, who updated listeners throughout the day.

The team faced several challenges, Shaw recalls, including making do with a reduced summer staff, using live interviews, and integrating the updates into the national broadcasts.

“With WBUR, listeners expect a high-quality sound,” he says. “We still had to live up to the professional expectations in the way we put the news together, even if it was done on the fly.”

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.