Flash floods, a governor’s controversial yearbook page, a federal stalemate that kept many people home from work, a deep dive into a sensational mansion murder and a dive into waters infested by young “sharks” were just a few captivating stories WTOP covered in the last year that led to a number of regional and national journalism awards.
The most recent awards came last weekend from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association, which recognized WTOP with two “Best in Show” honors.
Reporter Nick Iannelli took a trip to Crofton, Maryland — while not far from the Chesapeake Bay, it’s not known for “sharks” that you might find in Ocean City. However, in May 2019, it was home to a number of young “pool sharks,” who gathered for a junior tournament organized by the American Poolplayers Association.
Thirty young players participated, and 10 did well enough to advance to the APA Junior Championships.
Judges from CAPBA said Iannelli’s story was “heartwarming” and singled it out for using good sound of the balls crashing into each other along with the voices of the young pool players.
WTOP’s day-to-day radio format does not lend itself to long-form storytelling, but due to the popularity of podcasting, reporter Megan Cloherty and digital writer and editor Jack Moore realized they had a venue for an extended story. That’s how “22 Hours: An American Nightmare” was born.
The duo spent nearly a year researching, writing and producing a 12-episode series that debuted in late spring 2019.
The story focused on what unfolded in May 2015, when three members of a wealthy D.C. family and their housekeeper were held captive in their home by Daron Wint. All four were killed, and the home was set on fire.
While Wint was convicted, Cloherty and Moore realized there was more they could tell listeners about the story, even four years later.
“22 Hours” was also honored as one of The Associated Press’ Top 10 Podcasts of 2019 and one of Apple Podcasts’ most popular new shows of 2019.
Julia Ziegler, WTOP’s Director of News and Programming, said those stories and the others honored with awards show that the organization is not only a resource for breaking news, but also for more in-depth reporting.
“Our promise to our audience is that we’re going to give them the top news of the day,” Ziegler said. “You should be able to listen to us, or read our website, and walk away feeling informed. However, it is also really important to cover those stories that can’t always be done in 40 seconds or can’t always be done without a little digging.”
In addition to the “Best in Show” notices, WTOP won CAPBA awards for a number of other categories, including: Outstanding website, newscast, news operation and year-round local sports.
CAPBA named Cloherty “best reporter.”
For individual stories, WTOP’s traffic, weather reporter and photographer Dave Dildine recently earned awards for his “Rock Creek Rescue” story, where he and Cloherty told of his fortuitous trip to Rock Creek Park during a 2019 snowstorm.
He was there seeking an iconic photo of one of the park’s snow-covered bridges in the fading winter sunlight. Little did he know he would rescue a woman who had fallen into the creek’s icy waters.
The rescue story also caught the attention of the National Headliner Awards, where it captured first place among a national field of radio stations in the “feature and human interest story” category.
WTOP’s reporters also received five other second or third place mentions from the Headliner Awards.
Dildine, whose weather photos can often be found on WTOP.com, also captured a defining image of the flash floods that disrupted the commute into the District last July. His photo of a man wearing slacks and a pink shirt standing on the roof of his swamped car on flooded Canal Road showed the power of a fast-moving summer storm.
That photo was recognized with a D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists 2020 Dateline Award.
Dildine is not the only WTOP journalist whose work has been recently recognized by a number of professional organizations.
J.J. Green’s 3-part “The Fog of Espionage” was honored as “Outstanding News Series” by CAPBA and the local SPJ. Green, WTOP’s national security correspondent, detailed the methods and intensity with which millions of spies from countries including China and Russia attack and monitor the U.S. and how the country defends itself.
“The awards are great, and I appreciate being recognized by our peers. But equally important, what I love even more is when I get in a cab or an Uber and WTOP is on the radio, and I get into a conversation with the driver and I hear their reaction to a story like Dave Dildine saving the woman’s life in Rock Creek Park, and that is amazing too, to see how people in the community react to the journalism that we do,” Ziegler said.
CAPBA also recognized WTOP’s Jenny Glick, John Domen and Rachel Nania for enterprise reporting, sports reporting and use of sound.
The D.C. SPJ chapter also presented top honors to Sports Director Dave Johnson for “outstanding commentary,” to Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller for “beat reporting” and the entire WTOP sports staff for its comprehensive reporting on area sports.
Another staff award in the Breaking News category went to WTOP for its coverage of the scandal that almost swamped Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam just one year into his tenure. In early 2019, Northam’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page surfaced, and one of the photos showed a man in blackface standing next to a man in Ku Klux Klan clothing.
An investigation as to the origins of the photo, and into who may have been in the photo, proved inconclusive.
Digital writer and editor Alejandro Alvarez, who has distinguished himself recently with coverage of the protests inspired by the outcry over the death of George Floyd while in police custody, was honored by SPJ with a photography award for his coverage of another protest: the student walkouts in March 2019 against gun violence.
Earlier this year, WTOP took home five Virginia Associated Press Broadcasters Awards. The website won top honors, commentator Chris Core won for his “Core Values” series, Green won for his “Fog of Espionage” series and Cloherty won for a story about a teenage Irish Dance competitor who missed the national championship in 2018 while undergoing treatment for bone cancer but recovered enough to make the event in 2019.
Anchor and reporter Jenny Glick’s 3-part series on eating disorders ran in September 2019 and received notice from multiple competitions, including “Best Documentary” from Virginia’s AP.
WTOP is awaiting notification from the Radio and Television News Director’s Association for the National Edward R. Murrow awards. However, it has already been honored with a number of regional Murrow awards based on work accomplished in 2019.
The winners were Tiffany Arnold and the WTOP.com staff for excellence in social media, the WTOP staff for its coverage of the July floods mentioned above, Cloherty and Dildine’s piece on the Rock Creek rescue, Jack Moore and Cloherty for their “22 Hours” collaboration and reporter Mike Murillo’s story about one police officer donating a kidney to another.
WTOP’s staff was also given an award for Overall Excellence.
Regional winners automatically move on to the national round of the competition. The national award announcement is scheduled for later this summer, with winners being honored at an event currently scheduled for October.
The pieces and newscasts considered for the awards were all from 2019, and the passage of time between the stories and the awards allows for some valuable reflection, Ziegler said.
“You don’t have a ton of time to reflect in the moment,” she said. “So this is a time to reflect and go, ‘Wow, we made a difference in people’s lives this year.’ And it’s a great moment for the team, a chance to go back and say, ‘Wow, remember you did that?’
“Sometimes our line of work can be really hard. It can be exhausting to keep up with the pace,” Ziegler continued. “I always think it’s a great moment when these awards come in and it gives the entire newsroom that won an award, or just one reporter who won something, a chance to reflect and go, ‘That was really good work.'”
See and hear examples of the newscasts that earned WTOP a regional Murrow for “Overall Excellence”:
Overall Excellence: WTOP
From the blackface scandal that engulfed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and — literally — almost everything in between, hear highlights of the stories WTOP covered in 2019 that garnered the overall excellence award.