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WFAA wins duPont-Columbia Award, broadcast equivalent of Pulitzer Prize, for reporting on climate change

Reporter David Schechter and photographer Chance Horner were honored for upholding the highest standards in journalism with their ongoing series Verify Road Trip
Credit: WFAA
Photographer Chance Horner and reporter David Schechter, winners of the duPont-Columbia award, on location in Alaska in Sept. 2019.

The Alfred duPont-Columbia University Award, considered broadcasting’s Pulitzer Prize, has been awarded to WFAA's David Schechter and Chance Horner for their adventure-reporting series Verify Road Trip.

In the winning, hour-long episode Schechter brings a viewer -- skeptical about climate change -- on a major reporting trip. They travel together across Texas to interview leading scientists and then to Alaska to witness melting glaciers for themselves.

The guest/reporter sees what Schechter sees, asks his own questions and reaches his own conclusions.

DOCUMENTARY: Climate skeptic examines what scientists know and how they know it

“Our commitment to our audience and commitment to the truth have never been stronger or more important, and we are incredibly proud of Verify Road Trip because it is quite literally at the intersection of both,” said Brad Ramsey, president and general manager of WFAA.

The duPont Silver Baton, dedicated to upholding the highest in journalism standards, is awarded by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which also awards the Pulitzer Prize.

“We like to say truth is an adventure. That means letting our audience see the lengths we’ll go to get the story, to find the truth. And how rewarding the process is,” Schechter said.

The episode is directed, shot and edited by Horner who led a crew that included WFAA photojournalists Martin DoPorto and Bradley Blackburn.

"We have a lot of fun making these stories. When it comes to climate change, we wanted the viewer to have fun along the way too so they might be more open to learning something about one of the most important stories of our time," Horner said.

14 winners were announced at Tuesday evening’s ceremony. In addition to WFAA they included: PBS, Radiolab, NBC News, Netflix and VICE.

WFAA photojournalist Joseph Huerta was also among the duPont winners for the thought-provoking documentary Bob’s Choice. While working at KING 5 News Seattle, Huerta chronicled a terminal cancer patient who, with humor and insight, decided to legally end his life.

In selecting Verify Road Trip, the duPont judges wrote, “In a fresh take on climate change, producers of this ongoing series devoted an episode to taking a skeptical viewer on a reporting trip to meet and question scientists, and to witness the damning evidence firsthand.” The judges applauded the station’s use of resources to innovate and produce a compelling story that works to bridge our partisan divide.

“It’s rewarding that the duPont judges recognize great stories need to deliver not just facts but experiences that connect with the audience,” said Carolyn Mungo, vice president and station manager at WFAA. “Consumers of local journalism deserve no less,” she added.

The Verify Road Trip series was co-created by Schechter, Horner and WFAA's Alex Krueger and Doug Boehner and began as a part of a process to develop new forms of fact-based reporting at a TEGNA Innovation Summit in 2015. Verify has now expanded into a nationwide fact-checking initiative.

“When Verify Road Trip takes a viewer on a reporting trip, we hope it adds credibility for the audience. It puts them in the front seat of the fact-finding process,” said Leslie McCardel, news director at WFAA.  

Credit: Brian Brettschneider
The Verify crew standing above Portage Glacier. From left to right: Bradley Blackburn, Justin Fain, Chance Horner and David Schechter.

Schechter and Horner are also winners of a national Murrow Award for a Verify Road Trip that brought a conservative voter to see the US-Mexico Wall, James Beard Award Finalists for food reporting and winners of the 2020 Scripps Howard Award for their reporting on climate change.

“I congratulate David and Chance on this outstanding piece of important journalism, and I want to thank Columbia University for continuing to shine a light on journalists fighting the good fight all over the world,” Ramsey added.

This is WFAA's 11th Silver Baton from duPont-Columbia, which includes six wins for legendary investigative reporter Byron Harris. WFAA is the only local television news station in the nation to also earn a duPont Gold Baton, the highest recognition in broadcast journalism.

The station earned that honor in 2009 for a trio of investigative stories on fraudulent international government loans, academic cheating in high school sports, and faulty gas pipeline couplings.