A podcast exploring the status of Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont and a video that uses Legos to explain the Iowa caucus, and breaking news coverage of the Northeast Kingdom EB-5 scandal have won Vermont Public Radio three national journalism awards for its work in 2016.
VPR won Edward R. Murrow Awards for Best News Documentary and Excellence in Video from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), the world’s largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. VPR News also won the award for Breaking News from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI).
Best News Documentary: “What is the status of the Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont today?”
Each month, the podcast Brave Little State answers a question submitted by a listener and voted on by the community. The winning piece took on the question question: “What is the status of the Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont today?”.
Angela Evancie, the podcast’s host and creator, says the show’s people-powered model, which was pioneered by WBEZ’s Curious City, has opened up a radical new way of reporting.
“In the case of this story about Vermont's Abenaki, a seemingly simple question prompted complicated conversations about how the native community sees — and doesn't see — itself in contemporary Vermont,” Evancie said. “I was so grateful to the Abenaki leaders who opened up their homes and tribal headquarters to me, and trusted me to share a small part of their story.”
Murrow Award, Excellence In Video: “How The Iowa Caucus Works, In 2 Minutes (Starring Legos)
‘How The Iowa Caucus Works, In 2 Minutes (Starring Legos)’, created by Evancie and Digital Reporter Taylor Dobbs, won the award for Excellence in Video. Dobbs says the idea was born from the need to explain a complicated subject on the cheap.
Before VPR’s reporting trip to Iowa in 2016, VPR asked listeners for their questions about the political process in Iowa. Several people wondered how the Iowa Caucus worked. "When we looked into it, we found that the caucus process is so complicated that we'd need visuals to help explain it,” Dobbs said.
They looked to commission an animator to produce a video, but when the estimate came in too high, Dobbs and Evancie took matters into their own hands.
“We pulled some poster paper out of the conference room, and cleared off a table by the office printer, where we built a little backdrop,” Evancie said. “We borrowed Legos from our colleagues' kids' collections — VPR President Robin Turnau made some really excellent contributions, as did our engineer John Billingsley.”
Dobbs said he was overwhelmed by the positive response to the video, but one piece of feedback stood out.
"I heard from my high school civics teacher in Montpelier that he used the video to launch into a class project, and that's when I felt like we'd really hit our mark. It's great to hear from people that they understand the caucus system better now or that our video inspired further engagement. That's why we're here, really. Getting to play with Legos is just a perk."
It’s the first time VPR has won a national Murrow Award for digital-first content. Both pieces were inspired by audience questions.
Of all the awards given to journalists, The Murrows are among the most respected in the world. The awards put public interest above all else, and they recognize stories that are the embodiment of the values, principles, and standards set forth by Edward R. Murrow, a journalism pioneer who set the standard for the highest quality of broadcast journalism.
The two national awards follow VPR’s five regional Edward R. Murrow wins. VPR competes in RTDNA's Region 10, comprising all six New England states. You can see all the regional winners here, and the national Edward R. Murrow Award winners here.
PRNDI Award: Breaking News: 'Dark Day For Vermont': NEK Developers Allegedly Duped Investors Out Of Millions'
VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld was honored with a 1st Place PRNDI Award for Breaking News for his story about the alleged Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded foreign investors out of millions by the owner of Jay Peak.
The PRNDI Awards is the only national competition devoted to rewarding outstanding local public radio news. VPR competed in the Large Newsroom category with flagship public radio stations including WBUR in Boston, WNYC in New York, and KQED in San Francisco. A full list of award winners, along with links to the winning pieces, can be found here.