A former student was honored with the prestigious Golden Mike Award from the Radio and Television News Association (RTNA) of Southern California on Saturday Jan. 23 marking a monumental day for Pepperdine’s Telecommunications Department. Alex Blackmon a 2009 Seaver graduate was recognized for a feature aired last March exposing the issue of homelessness in Santa Monica.
Blackmon was accompanied by Pepperdine professor Dr. Michael Murrie to the annual presentation dinner at the Universal Hilton. The two were among the top TV and radio news reporters anchors and producers being honored for their achievements.
For 60 years the RTNA has bestowed awards in 53 radio and television news categories. Each category is separated into two divisions based on factors such as the size of the contestant’s full-time news staff. The ceremony is a prestigious event gathering broadcast journalism’s finest in recognition of their efforts to maintain a well-informed public.
Murrie has been an active member of RTNA for some time and has even served as a panel judge during two of the competitions.
However he only recently started encouraging students to enter the competition after an RTNA board member reminded him that “Newswaves”— Pepperdine’s student-run news show— qualified to compete in Division B.
“We had a number of good stories produced last spring Murrie said. Alex’s story came up as a possible contender.”
Blackmon’s feature won the Golden Mike for Best Serious Feature Reporting which reviews the individual efforts of TV news reporters throughout the Southern California region.
Pepperdine submitted several stories and though Murrie informed most of the participating students if their stories were included Blackmon was unaware the school was even competing. News of his feature’s win came as a complete shock.
The story titled “Homeless in Santa Monica illustrated the perspectives of several individuals living in the city streets. The story predominantly focused on the struggles of the Berger family, which includes Bessie Mae, 97, and her two sons in their 60s.
Blackmon explained the Berger sons had lost their jobs after the fall of the economy.
Though they continued looking for work, they eventually had to forfeit their home and were forced to live in a car with their elderly mother.
The story made a considerable impression on the panel of professionals judging news footage in what Murrie considers probably the most competitive television news region in the nation.”
News that a Pepperdine undergraduate had won the award during the school’s first year in the competition came as a joyous surprise.
“I called Alex and had to repeat a few things Murrie said.
Blackmon was equally stunned by the situation. He described the night of the ceremony as an exciting experience that made him feel fortunate to have his work selected alongside that of so many accomplished professionals.
Although the attention of receiving such acclaim is certainly gratifying, Blackmon contends that the memory of the feature is just as enduring.
Shooting the story revealed a whole new side of the homeless and their individual struggles, he said, describing the experience of seeing the car in which the Bergers slept each night as emotional.”
“The car was just trashed duct-taped windows. I really felt for them he said. It really made me realize my position. I’ve learned to work hard and try to avoid that.”
Though his initial intention was a feature on the Santa Monica homeless situation as a whole meeting the Bergers brought more meaning and insight to the situation. Blackmon says the personal encounter instigated the need to relay an account rather than a statistic. Blackmon also learned the difficulties of shooting news quickly. The homeless community does not like to give interviews or be filmed and many refuse on-camera interviews from strangers— behavior Blackmon believes is probably attributed to a fear of further victimization.
After Blackmon finished the feature he spent several months returning to the same location in search of them. Though his efforts to reconnect with the family were unsuccessful his feature was not.
Six months after “Newswaves” aired the story a columnist for the Los Angeles Times followed up on the Bergers. As a result the family received housing.
Murrie says the situation is a great example of the diverse role TV 32 aims to play in the community. He believes even though the station was created as an “instructional vehicle” for students a major goal is “for Newswaves to be a public service in a limited way.”
As for more award-winning features in the works just stay tuned.