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WBUR Nabs Top Awards

BU station wins Associated Press, RTNDA honors

“We like to go beyond the headlines,” says John Davidow, WBUR news director and managing editor. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

In-depth reports ranging from the Iraq war to circus music made 2006 a banner year for WBUR-90.9FM. The Boston University–owned National Public Radio station was recently honored by the Associated Press, winning top placement in five news categories for large-market stations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island: general news, documentary, sports program, public affairs, and use of sound.

“What’s especially nice is that these shows are judged by journalists in other markets, and it’s gratifying that a jury of our peers has judged our work and deemed it to be award-worthy,” says John Davidow, WBUR news director and managing editor.

The station also captured four Edward R. Murrow Awards in the New England Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) large-market division competition.

Associated Press awards

Winning the general news category was “War on the Home Front,” a continuing series about the family of Jim Scanlon of Waltham, Mass., who is currently deployed in Iraq. Instead of focusing on Jim, reporter Monica Brady-Myerov explores the impact of his service on his wife and two daughters.

“We do a lot of stories on the war, and at one point we had a visit from our Baghdad correspondent,” Davidow explains. “She asked how much time we were spending on people who were connected to the ones going over and the toll it takes on them. That seemed to be a new way to approach it — to show how the war is also being fought at home. The Scanlons are a typical family; they’re the story that tells the larger story.” The series will continue through the end of Jim’s deployment in the fall.

Two shows of particular local interest won in the documentary and public affairs categories. The first is a report by Rachel Gotbaum on the 10th anniversary of the merger of the two medical institutions, Boston University Medical Center Hospital and Boston City Hospital, which created Boston Medical Center.

The public affairs winner was “Boston at the Crossroads,” a five-part series that looks at the economic challenges facing Boston and at its prospects for the future. “There’s been a lot written about the cost of living here, the cost of doing business, and the number of jobs leaving,” Davidow says. “So we wanted to ask if the city was going backwards or forwards. We found that there is a lot of new strength coming into town — universities and businesses are doing what they can to bolster the economic climate, and a new wave of immigrants is bringing their own vitality in. Boston has transformed itself many times in the past, and there is a lot of reason to hope.”

Winning best sports program was Only a Game, a WBUR favorite. The program is known for its unorthodox approach, both in format and in the variety of sports it covers. Among the features on November’s winning episode were a report on a championship marching band and an interview with the mother of star NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. “Even people who don’t love sports enjoy that show,” Davidow says. “It’s really more about storytelling, going further than the stories you find on the sports page every day.”

Even more unorthodox is Andrea Shea’s report on the musical group Cirkestra, which won for best use of sound. Perhaps the most unusual musical group in Boston, Cirkestra performs circus music at rock ’n’ roll venues, and its lineup includes many players who have traveled with circuses. Shea caught its performance at the Middle East, a Cambridge rock spot.

The shows reflect the local slant that WBUR’s news often takes, as well as its flair for offbeat story angles. “We like to go beyond the headlines,” Davidow says. “We want to provide the context, so listeners can see the headlines in a more meaningful way. That’s a large part of what we do here.”

Edward R. Murrow Awards

The story “Electric Shock Treatments: Tough Love or Torture?” by reporter Allan Coukell, won in the feature, hard news category. It takes a close look at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, a last resort for parents of children with autism, mental retardation, and severe behavioral problems. The school came under investigation after a series of allegations of abuse.

Gotbaum’s report on Boston Medical Center won in the news documentary category.

“The Story of a Violin” won for best use of sound. Reporter Matt Largey’s piece is about the return of a violin, a family heirloom that was lovingly restored at Boston’s North Bennett Street School, to the man who began crafting it in prison in 1945.

And the winner in sports reporting was “Kenya’s Fastest Town.” Reporter Karen Given traveled to Iten, in the highlands of western Kenya, which is home to about 500 runners who make a very good living at the sport.

“Winning these awards is gratifying and reflects the outstanding work produced last year by so many of the great journalists at WBUR,” Davidow says. “We are flattered by this recognition.” 
WBUR is eligible for the RTNDA’s national competition. The national winners will be honored in October in New York.

Over the years, the station has won more than 100 major awards for news coverage. In 2006 it was named the regional Associated Press Station of the Year for the third consecutive year.