2009 WHCA JOURNALISM AWARDS
President Obama, Jennifer Loven, and Brian Williams of NBC News presented this year’s journalism awards at the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
THE MERRIMAN SMITH MEMORIAL AWARD
The Merriman Smith Memorial Award ($2,500 for each winner) recognizes presidential news coverage under deadline pressure, with separate awards for print and broadcast journalists. Learn More
Winner–print: Sandra Sobieraj Westfall of People magazine
Sandra Sobieraj Westfall won for taking her readers inside the room for an “intimate and detail-filled portrait” as Barack Obama heard the results of his history-making presidential bid, according to the judges.
“Her story of that surprisingly calm moment is the most striking component of an election night report that sweeps from solemnity to the revelry of the crowds,” said the judges. “Written on the tightest of deadlines, the view is intimate, the access is extraordinary, the scope is remarkable.”
The judges added, “The ability to move beyond official statements is the hallmark of a great reporter. Sanda Sobieraj Westfall does just that. This work soars.”
Winner–broadcast: David Greene of National Public Radio
David Greene, the winner in the broadcast category of the Merriman Smith Award, won for his coverage of candidate Obama’s speech that addressed the nation’s racial divide. The Merriman Smith Award carries a cash prize of $2,500 for each winner.
The judges declared that Greene “masterfully” set up the problems mounting for Obama’s campaign when stories surfaced about controversial remarks by his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, just as the candidate was struggling to appeal to appeal to all voters.
When Obama chose a small crowd in Philadelphia to address the issue, Greene knew the remarks on race could be shortened into sound bites but he resisted that urge by reporting on the nuances of Obama’s historic speech. “He dug deeper,” said the judges. “By showing the complexity of the candidate’s beliefs on race — and by quickly interviewing other people of faith — Greene gave his audience a more textured view of an important moment in American politics.”
THE ALDO BECKMAN AWARD
The Aldo Beckman Award ($1,000) recognizes sustained excellence in White House coverage, with a single award for either a print or broadcast journalist.
Winner: Michael Abramowitz, formerly of the Washington Post
Michael Abramowitz won the Aldo Beckman Award for his coverage of the final days of the Bush administration. At the time, Abramowitz was covering the White House for The Washington Post, where he had worked since 1985. (In February 2009, Abramowitz was appointed Director of the Committee on Conscience, which guides the genocide prevention efforts of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum).
According to the judges:
“Michael Abramowitz’s excellent reporting on the last year of the Bush presidency gave readers, in clear, crisp prose, the larger context behind the daily news. His exemplary reporting under deadline pressure was in the great tradition of Aldo Beckman and reminded us, in a year where much attention was focused on the presidential campaigns, of why the White House still was relevant and in need of close scrutiny.”
THE EDGAR A. POE MEMORIAL AWARD
The Edgar A. Poe Memorial Award ($2,500) recognizes excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance, with a single award for either a print or broadcast journalist.
Winners: Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of the Seattle Times
Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong won the Edgar A. Poe Memorial Award for a three-part series in The Seattle Times that exposed the failure of hospitals in Washington state and across the country to control the deadly rise of the MRSA staph infection. Combining in-depth reporting and data analysis with the stories of victims and activists, the series explained the science and uncovered the public policies and corporate interests responsible for this epidemic. Online the series provided a searchable database, explained the reporters’ methodology and invited reader comment.
The award is named in honor of a now-deceased correspondent of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Edgar A. Poe also was a former president of the correspondents’ association.
The judges of the Poe award also gave honorable mention to Gary Fields and Jonathan Kaufman of the Wall Street Journal for their insightful stories on race and violence in America, and African-Americans attitudes’ toward the 2008 presidential campaign.
Honorable mention was also offered to reporters from two different publications for similar work on the threat to U.S. security and infrastructure from Chinese computer hackers who penetrated military Websites and possibly the American electrical grid: Shane Harris of National Journal as well as Brian Grow, Keith Epstein, Chi-Chu Tschang, Cliff Edwards, Brian Bursed, and Ben Elgin of Business Week.