AOPA 2002 journalism award winners include national magazine writer, TV reporter, and radio newsman

October 24, 2002

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James Fallows
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Michele Cheplic
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Chris Lehman

A magazine writer from Washington, D.C., a television reporter from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a radio newsman from Rockford, Illinois, have won top honors in AOPA's 2002 Max Karant Journalism Awards competition.

Winners James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Michele Cheplic of WGBA-TV, and Chris Lehman of WNIJ Radio received their awards at the opening luncheon of AOPA Expo 2002, the association's annual convention and trade show held this year in Palm Springs, California.

The prestigious Karant awards honor the best of "fair, accurate, and insightful" reporting on general aviation (GA) in the general (non-aviation) media. They include categories for print, TV or video, and radio, and carry an honorarium of $1,000 in each category. The awards were named for Max Karant, founder of AOPA Pilot magazine and the association's first senior vice president. Karant died in 1997.

Freedom of the skies

Print category winner James Fallows, former Washington editor and now national correspondent for the 140-year-old Atlantic Monthly magazine, won first place in the Karant Print category with a 13-page article in the June 2001 issue titled "Freedom of the Skies."

The article, excerpted from a book he wrote, told how inventors, entrepreneurs, and government visionaries are teaming up to create a bright new future for general aviation. It argues that new technologies for GA aircraft will soon encourage far more people to travel by GA aircraft rather than airlines.

"'Escape from airline hell' might have been a good subtitle," said Keith Mordoff, AOPA senior vice president for communications. "And with post-9/11 security hassles now permeating the commercial flying experience, James' observations on the future of GA are looking better and better all the time."

Fallows has authored seven books and has written widely on general aviation matters in many major magazines. He is also a frequent commentator on National Public Radio and has written a column about technology and politics for the Industry Standard magazine. Recent articles have appeared in Slate, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, The American Prospect, and other magazines.

He grew up in southern California and attended Harvard, where he was president of the newspaper The Crimson. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1970 and then studied economics at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He learned to fly in the Washington, D.C., area in 1998 and owns a Cirrus SR-20 based at the Gaithersburg, Maryland, airport.

Never too old

Television news reporter Michele Cheplic of WGBA-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin, won first place in the Karant Awards TV category for her fast-moving feature on a 60-year-old retired accountant who finally realized his boyhood dream of learning to fly. The inspirational three-minute feature aired on the July 24, 2001, evening news of the NBC affiliate station.

"He called himself the old man forever fated to fly in seat 37C on an airliner," Cheplic said in her entry for the Karant Journalism Awards. "But a retirement gift of flying lessons changed everything for him."

In the program, new pilot Mike Egan told viewers that learning to fly was "the most wonderful learning experience I ever had in my life. It was wonderful!"

Using close-ups of the personable, animated Egan next to his Cessna Skyhawk, along with dramatic in-flight scenes from both inside and outside the aircraft, Cheplic showed eastern Wisconsin viewers the beauty and joy that is general aviation flying.

"The oneness with life with this great machine, the sound of the motor, the blur of the propeller, the ground whizzing by," continued Egan. "It's all good and all beautiful."

This year's Karant Award TV winner was raised in Hawaii and opines "flying is practically the only way to travel." Love of aviation apparently runs in the family; Michele relates how her young cousin stands at a window at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, clutching the "A" volume of the encyclopedia and looking to see if the airplanes match up with those in his book.

She has been a television news reporter for 10 years.

Meigs Field

A thoughtful, well-balanced radio report on the struggle to save Chicago's famed Meigs Field airport won first place in the Karant Awards radio category for Chris Lehman, a reporter for WNIJ Radio in DeKalb, Illinois.

The June 29 report, which aired twice on the northern Illinois public radio outlet, included comment and reasoned arguments from all sides, including a spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Daley's office and AOPA.

"In a day when many reporters just grab what little information they can and run with it, a well-crafted, thorough report like this one deserves recognition," said Mordoff. "Chris took his time in planning and assembling this piece, giving his listeners in the northern Illinois area a much better understanding of the importance of Meigs and the issues involved."

Lehman, who has worked at WNIJ for nearly three years, is originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Temple University in 1997 with a degree in broadcast journalism, he served as an arts reporter for KDAQ, a public radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana.

His career goal is to become a public radio foreign correspondent. In the past two years, Lehman has reported on a free-lance basis from Iraq, El Salvador, and Burkina Faso. His reports have aired on public radio programs including Marketplace, Common Ground, the Environment Show, and the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, founded in 1939, is the world's largest membership association for pilots. It works to keep general aviation (non-airline) flying safe, enjoyable, and affordable for its 380,000-plus members. Members own and fly mostly single-engine and twin-engine piston aircraft, which account for about 93 percent of all civilian aircraft in the United States.

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