Payne Horning's feature story on the 75th anniversary of Jewish refugees arriving at Fort Ontario in Oswego received the Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Feature Reporting from the Radio Television Digital News Association. The story also aired on NPR’s "Here and Now" in August 2019.
This spring, the WRVO News team also received awards from the Syracuse Press Club (SPC), New York State Broadcasters Association (NYSBA) and New York State Associated Press Association (NYSAPA).
“The Murrow Awards are one of the most prestigious awards a radio station can earn,” said Jason Smith, director of news and public affairs for WRVO. The award, he added, is highly competitive, “because you're being judged against stations from all of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And this is where everyone submits their top material.”
From the NYSBA, WRVO won Outstanding Podcast for "The Heidi Allen Case: Central New York's Most Enduring Mystery."
From the NYAPA, Horning earned Best Continuing Coverage for his stories on Lake Ontario Flooding. "The Heidi Allen Case: Central New York's Most Enduring Mystery" also won Best Podcast.
In addition, the SPC announced the following awards to WRVO stories:
- For Spot News, Ellen Abbott's piece "SU students walk out of forum to address racism, chancellor agrees to majority of demands."
- For News Feature or Series, Tom Magnarelli's piece "For struggling farmers out of options, FarmNet offers help."
- For Human Interest Feature, Horning's "The legacy of Oswego's Safe Haven is its lessons"
- For Special Program, Mark Lavonier, Leah Landry, Jason Smith and Catherine Loper's "Take Care: Legalizing recreational use of marijuana, revisiting medical use."
Safe Haven legacy
A producer/reporter for WRVO, Horning has covered a wide range of stories and subjects, but said the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum is “by far” his favorite topic.
“Oswego played a small but significant role in World War II as the only site in the country to serve as a camp for what were mostly Jewish refugees during the Holocaust,” Horning explained. “Congress was opposed to taking in refugees at the time, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to maneuver around their opposition by bringing over the 982 individuals as his 'guests.' Nearly 1,000 lives were saved from the horrors of the Holocaust as a result of this action.”
With ceremonies planned to honor the 75th anniversary of the 1944 establishment of the center, the WRVO team saw the significance of what was likely the last reunion of its kind, given the age of the former refugees.
“And of all the places in the nation where they could have been taken, it was Fort Ontario in Oswego that had the special honor of housing them during the remainder of the war,” Horning said. “This piece of history is truly exceptional and I know that many who live in Oswego are sincerely proud of what role their community played in it, as they should be.”
While WRVO did a story when the summer 2019 event took place, “we went back and also did the longer, more in-depth piece about why it was important for these former refugees to come back and to hear their voices,” Smith said. “It didn't air the day after the event, but that's OK. It takes time to put a more in depth story together, and we think it's worth the wait.”
“I ended up spending the day with the refugees and their families as they visited some of the gravesites of the refugees who had died while at the camp and when they returned to the Fort and the Safe Haven Museum,” Horning said. He spent so much time poring over interviews and writing the script, because “I just wanted to do justice to this story and honor those who had taken the time to share their experiences with me, especially given that this could be their last trip to Fort Ontario,” Horning explained.
“It was also important to tell this story because of what it can teach us even today,” Horning added. “As so many refugees and their families told me when I was covering this story last summer, the story of Safe Haven has a lot of parallels to what is happening today and we should strive not just to celebrate what Oswego did by opening its gates, but also learn from it as well.”
Horning’s piece automatically earns consideration for the national Murrow Award competition, with results expected later this year.
‘Beyond the headlines’
Like most public media outlets, WRVO’s “job is to go beyond the headlines and try and bring a deeper understanding to the issues,” Smith explained. Thus WRVO stories often involve a longer approach that looks at various sides and aspects of issues and ongoing stories.
An example that earned awards was the podcast on the Heidi Allen case, which explored the mysterious 1994 disappearance of the teenager and the controversy that followed attempts to solve it.
Ryan Zalduondo, who has since graduated from SUNY Oswego with his journalism degree, conceived and developed the four-part podcast series as a student intern.
“He did all the interviews himself, wrote all the scripts himself,” Smith said. “But he needed help on the production side, and that's where we stepped in. We were able to help him with the audio side of it, and we think it turned out quite well. Everyone put in a lot of work on it, and I was glad to see it win a few awards.”
For more information about or to find ways to listen to WRVO Public Media, visit WRVO.org.