Journalists and guests in evening attire filled Gotham Hall in New York City last month to celebrate the Edward R. Murrow Awards and the impact of journalism on the community.
Behind all award-winning stories is a story about positive change. These stories highlight the core of journalism by serving the people and changing the world for the better.
Reporter Alex Rozier for NBC affiliate KING 5 News in Seattle, Washington, shared a story that was a positive change for both the community and himself.
KING-TV won the Feature Reporting award for a story Rozier covered with photojournalist Dan Renzetti. It was the story of the heart of a musician from Seattle who saved the life of a woman in Alaska. “I’ve built a friendship with this family who lost their loved one,” Rozier said, “I met them at the worst time of their life, but their story has made a difference and it was important for me to share that.”
The story touched on the positive outcome of a death from an organ donor through the lens of human stories. According to Rozier, impactful storytelling is great because of the relationships built between people.
Aaron Henkin of WYPR also focuses on storytelling through the human lens with the radio/podcast series he produces called “Out of the Blocks.” Henkin explained in an email that the mission of an episode for the series is to meet everyone on one chosen city block.
He said the result is a collage of everyday humanity which allows listeners the opportunity to empathize with people they may otherwise never have met. “We hope that our work builds bridges of understanding in our community by honoring everyone’s story in a very democratic way,” Henkin said.
New York Times journalist Liz O. Baylen also aims to build bridges of understanding across the nation with digital media.
“I think the power of video is all about connecting people that aren’t in areas that are affected,” Baylen said. She accepted the Breaking News Coverage award for The New York Times’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, in which she collaborated. She said the goal in covering stories, in general, is to connect a national and an international audience to the people of the story and the consequences of whatever the story is.
“Our goal is to let people see what it really feels like, what it looks like and the emotional cost,” Baylen said.
According to CBS News Radio General Manager Craig Swagler, the most positive changes he sees with his own team of correspondents come when the journalists tell stories of individuals and make them as relatable as possible.
Henkin said, “The stories we share, those stories can end up defining our community, so we have a responsibility to share them with honesty.”
Henkin said as a local journalist, he now deals with distrust from the neighborhoods on a daily basis after the national media in 2015 covered the social unrest in Baltimore, Maryland, and then left after the unrest subsided.
He said though he doesn’t resent the people for that skepticism, it does make it difficult for him to establish a level of genuine trust.
“Climbing that hill, putting in that time, and producing an honest and nuanced story is my goal, and hopefully each time I do that, it helps to dial back the distrust and skepticism,” he said.
Distrust has come on a national level for all journalists with statements from political leaders including the president discrediting news organizations. There has been a change with how the people view the media because of these statements, leading many, including RTDNA, to warn that the press is under attack.
Swagler said in a time where there is such distrust of the press, a journalist’s job has to be to do even more and better work, echoing a common refrain of RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley.
“There is so much noise right now in our industry that the way we overcome that is by the fact that we just continue to do excellent work every single day and tell those individual stories about what’s going on,” he said.
Baylen said, “To me, it’s like getting out of the way and letting the people and the events that we’re documenting tell the story.”
Rozier advised journalists to get to know the people in their viewership and to understand the issues they face to rebuild the foundation of trust.
Despite this challenge, Murrow Award-winning journalists, as well as many others across the nation, continue to tell stories that serve and impact the community.
After all, as Henkin quoted poet Muriel Rukeyser saying, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”