Last night, I had the pleasure and fun of hanging out with Chaplain Eric Olsen, his wife Susan and my wife Susan at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, where an NCPR documentary “The Road From 9/11″ was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow award.
It was slightly surreal to be back in New York City with Eric. The last time we visited the city together it was just a few weeks after the terror attack in 2001 and he was in full combat gear. We drove together through the streets of Manhattan in Eric’s humvee.
This time, it was a night of celebration. Eric was in his dress uniform. He gave the invocation at the Murrow Awards, speaking to a ballroom full of media luminaries, talking eloquently about the importance of truth-tellers in our democratic society.
Susan Olsen was also an essential part of telling this story. While Eric deployed to Iraq — equipped with an NCPR tape recorder so that we could continue telling his story — Susan kept an audio diary from her home in Saranac Lake.
It was a joy to reminisce with the Olsens about these ten years that changed all our lives in ways great and small. Check out the documentary here.
Now a bit more about the “making of” this documentary. In the summer of 2010, I was skimming through old audio tape and I realized that I had an amazing archive of tape from the Olsen family’s life over the decade following 9/11.
A documentary threading together the moments of their historic journey seemed like a great idea and Martha Foley, NCPR’s news director, agreed to dedicate half an hour of our morning magazine the 8 O’clock Hour to this one story.
Then came a wrinkle: Tropical storm Irene hit, which meant that for days and weeks before the 9/11 tenth anniversary, I was literally swamped, scrambling to cover the worst natural disaster to occur during my 15 years in the North Country.
So I found myself writing and producing the documentary in bits and pieces, during rare moments of down-time, usually when I was so exhausted that I could barely think clearly.
I produced it in a weird way, writing, recording and mixing small segments before moving on to think about the next segment. It’s a crazy way to work and I remember wondering if any of it would make sense.
Something about the fatigue, and maybe the wired energy from covering Irene, came through in the documentary. When I first heard it on the air — and really that was the first time I heard the entire piece, beginning to end — I was kind of shocked. And delighted.
To have that effort recognized with a national Murrow award, and to be there to experience it with Eric and Susan, was beyond cool.
One final observation. NCPR has received a half dozen national Murrow awards during my time at the station. Once again this year, we were one of only about 60 news organizations in the entire country so honored.
It is an extraordinary thing for a rural network of our size, in the North Country, to punch above our weight like this with such consistency over so many years.
We have a ridiculously talented and dedicated team and a growing staff of reporters. This is a testament, above all else, to the work of general manager Ellen Rocco and news director Martha Foley.
It’s a rare day when they can’t find the resources to help us make great stories, even when our ideas are big and crazy and would be non-starters for most news organizations our size.
We also have a wildly, crazily, absurdly generous community of supporters who donate all the dollars that translate into moments like last night.
So when you pledge a few bucks to NCPR, remember that you don’t just take home a coffee mug or a tote bag. You are also there in spirit with us as we all take home an award that connects our efforts to the powerful legacy of Edward R. Murrow.