KPLU wins regional Murrow Award for pot legalization series

Apr 18, 2013

KPLU has garnered a 2013 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTNDA). The award for Best Audio News Series is in recognition of the KPLU News team’s 2012 pre-election series, “If it’s legal: Five ways legal pot could affect your life.”

“If it’s legal”, which aired October 8-11, 2012, was spearheaded by Keith Seinfeld, KPLU Health and Science Reporter.  The aim of the series was to separate facts from rumors and explain exactly what would change if Washington State ballot measure I-502 were approved, legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use.  KPLU recognized that the public discussion around I-502 was narrowly focused on two opposing factions within the pro-marijuana community, with a heavy emphasis on medical marijuana users—instead of speaking to the concerns of mainstream society.  The KPLU News team chose topics for its series that spoke to the average person, who may not ever consider smoking pot:

·      Will legalization of marijuana make police less effective?

·      Will “cannabis” lounges pop up if marijuana is legalized?

·      Will advertising make marijuana appear more “benign” or “risky”?

·      How will marijuana products be sold, and will they be safe?

·      Will legal marijuana make our roads more dangerous?

·      What would it mean for children growing up in a society where marijuana is legal?

Seinfeld, Law & Justice reporter Paula Wissel, Business & Labor reporter Ashley Gross, Environment Reporter Bellamy Pailthorp and Youth & Education reporter Gabriel Spitzer spent six weeks reporting the stories before the series aired.  “If it’s legal” reflected dozens of interviews, from legal experts to state officials, to pot growers and users.  On KPLU’s website, the stories were the most read and commented on of the election season.  In addition, KPLU launched a separate blog to share some of the juicier sidebar stories.  Following passage of the initiative, the series was re-packaged as a one-hour on-air special (“Now that marijuana is legal, what next?”) which included new material.

"We saw this series as a public service heading into the elections of fall 2012 when Washington voters faced a choice of whether or not to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use,” said KPLU News Director Erin Hennessey.  “Our biggest challenge was writing about something that hadn't happened yet. Each story had to help listeners imagine a world in the near future. Now that marijuana is legal in Washington, we continue to tap the research and resources we used in our series to cover the process of implementing state-licensed marijuana farms and stores."

The Edward R. Murrow Awards have recognized work of the highest quality produced by radio, television and online news organizations around the world since 1971. Award recipients demonstrate the spirit of excellence that Murrow set as a standard for the profession of electronic journalism.  KPLU competed in the "large market" category in Region 1 which includes five states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.  Regional winners are automatically entered in the national Edward R. Murrow Awards competition, which will be presented in New York on Columbus Day.