WTOP and WJLA were the big local winners of the annual Murrow Awards

By Paul Fahri
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

WTOP radio and WJLA-TV were the big local winners in the annual Edward R. Murrow Awards, a regional and national competition recognizing outstanding work in broadcast journalism.

All-news WTOP-FM nearly swept all of the categories among large-market stations in the Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware region, winning 12 of 13 awards overall, including the prize for overall excellence.

WJLA (Channel 7) won five awards, including overall excellence among news stations in the region and for a documentary about breast cancer that showed a full-breast examination.

WTTG (Channel 5), with two winning entries, was the only other Washington area local broadcast stations honored in a competition named after the late, legendary CBS newsman.

The regional overall excellence awards set WTOP and WJLA up for consideration for the same award nationally. The Washington-based Radio Television Digital News Association, which hands out the Murrow Awards, picks the national winners from the pool of 13 regional awardees. WTOP won the national excellence award last year.

Both local stations will face far stronger competition for the national awards than the regional trophies announced on Wednesday. Two of Washington's four broadcast news stations, WRC (Channel 4) and WUSA (Channel 9), did not submit entries, which meant that WJLA and WTTG were essentially competing against each other and a handful of Baltimore stations.

The radio competition was even thinner. With shrinking news staffs at stations across the country, only a few local radio stations do original news reporting anymore. WTOP's news director, Mike McMearty, said the large-market regional competition essentially came down to his station and WBAL (1090 AM), the Baltimore news-and-talk station that won the only award that WTOP didn't claim (for audio news series).

WTOP is among about a dozen all-news stations in the United States, and it typically ranks as the Washington area's most listened-to radio station, with an average audience share approaching 10 percent. Owned by Bonneville International, which is in turn owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, the station had estimated revenues of $51.02 million last year, making it the second-highest grossing in the country after music station KIIS (102.7 FM) in Los Angeles, according to estimates by BIA Financial of Chantilly.

WJLA is owned by Allbritton Communications of Arlington, a private, family-owned company that also owns NewsChannel 8 and the Politico newspaper, both in Arlington. WJLA typically finishes a distant second to WRC in the local news ratings.

In the Murrow competition, WTOP won across every kind of category, including hard news, features, documentaries and sports. National security reporter J.J. Green won two awards, for investigative reporting for a series about terrorist efforts to infiltrate the United States, and another for a news feature on a U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.

WTOP's Michelle Basch and Darci Marchese were also honored for their reporting; political commentator Mark Plotkin won for excellence in writing for his commentaries.

The station's Brennan Haselton also won two, one for best use of sound on a feature about an Alexandria artist who uses water glasses to create music, and another for feature reporting on the demise of Sony's Walkman.

Among other awards, WJLA won the video news category for its "Touch of Life" report about breast self-examination. The story generated national headlines for its frank depiction of the subject. WJLA won in breaking news for its coverage of the Metro train crash last June; WTOP also won for its coverage of this story.

Both WTOP and Channel 7's overall excellence awards were their second such awards in a row.

WTTG won for a news report on racial discrimination by taxi drivers in the District and for news writing.

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