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KPLU wins national SPJ award for pot legalization series


KPLU has won the 2012 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Radio Journalism (SPJ) for “If it’s legal: Five ways pot could affect your life.” Sigma Delta Chi Award winners will be honored at a banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Judges selected this year’s winners from over 1,700 entries in categories covering print, radio, television and online. The awards recognize outstanding work published or broadcast in 2012.  The contest is open to all United States media outlets.  This marks the second time KPLU has won a national SPJ award. 

“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.

“If it’s legal” has also garnered a 2013 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTNDA) for Best Audio News Series.

Previously, KPLU won the Sigma Delta Chi Award for its 2008 series, “Impact of War on Children.”

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