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KBIA student reporter wins Murrow Award

Reporters found 230 dead voters cast ballots
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:22 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Columbia radio station KBIA has won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for the second year in a row, which is possibly the only time a station has won the national award for two straight years, the station’s general manager said.

“It’s very unusual,” KBIA general manager Mike Dunn said. “I’d liken it to an Academy Award. They only give out 24 of these a year.”

MU student August Skamenca won the award for his investigative story “Dead Voters,” a seven-minute piece that revealed 10,000 deceased Missourians are still registered to vote. Of those people, 230 had cast ballots in recent elections.

Dunn said it is rare that a student wins an award.

“This is not something students normally even send things into,” Dunn said, adding that the competition includes seasoned, professional journalists.

Skamenca also shared last year’s win for a story on earthquakes called “What’s on the Line?” Skamenca, 25, originally from Denver, said he was surprised by the win.

“There was really stiff competition,” Skamenca said. “I certainly didn’t expect to win two years in a row.”

The Murrow Awards, named for the famous broadcast journalist, are given out annually, first at the regional and then national level. KBIA won four regional awards this year.

Sarah Ashworth, news director of KBIA, said Skamenca’s story was one of the toughest investigations the station has ever worked on.

“I am so proud of August and the KBIA newsroom,” Ashworth said. “We’ve worked really hard to delve into stories that we feel are important to the community. To see it rewarded in a national competition is inspiring.”

Skamenca said he got the idea for the piece around last year’s elections. He spent about a month working on the story with fellow student Matt Wynn, a database analyst at the National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting. The two matched names and dates of birth between the Social Security death registry and the Missouri secretary of state’s database and discovered that 10,000 people were still registered to vote that shouldn’t have been.

“We realized there was a potential for fraud,” Wynn said. “The secretary of state’s office questioned our method. It wasn’t really a story they wanted to see done.”

Ashworth said she expects big things from Skamenca.

“He’s taught us all about dedication and passion for journalism,” she said. “I know we can all expect to hear August’s name again.”

Skamenca’s piece is available at www.kbia.org/news/murrow07.htm.


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