The AOPA Max Karant Journalism Awards for 2000 honor coverage of the John Kennedy, Jr. accident, a TV news story on airports' economic value, a heart-warming TV feature on Funk airplanes, and a radio show profiling volunteer medical transportation pilots.
"These awards are not for favorable coverage of general aviation," noted Drew Steketee, AOPA senior vice president of communications. "They recognize coverage in the general audience media that is fair, accurate, and insightful, not a puff piece.
"The Print category winner this year illustrates that point in spades."
The Karant print category winner is Rinker Buck of The Hartford Courant for his accurate and insightful coverage of the John Kennedy, Jr. crash. The Courant called on Buck, an experienced pilot, to explain the aeronautical and aerodynamic aspects of the accident. Buck's work, with detailed illustrations, covered navigation, weather, and decision-making issues—even a graphic, detailed story on "graveyard spiral."
"Airing the worst that can happen in flying is no commercial for general aviation," noted Steketee. "But Rinker Buck's pieces educated the public on real aspects of flying, including accidents. He did so without sensationalism while showing flying as a well-understood science, not a black art or mysterious battle with unknown forces."
Buck, the son of a World War II flight instructor, soloed a glider at 14. At 16, a transcontinental jaunt in a PA-11 Cub with his older brother had the pair dubbed by media "the youngest aviators ever to fly coast-to-coast." The former Life and New York magazine writer later won critical praise for Flight of Passage, a 1996 memoir of the 1966 trip illuminating the brothers' complex relationship. One reviewer called it "Huckleberry Finn meets The Spirit of St. Louis."
Honorable mentions in the print category went to Daniel Bates of Small Business News (Pittsburgh, Penn.) for "Frenetic Flyer," and Ike R. Wilson of the Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) for "Discover Your Airport—Celebrating 50 Years."
TV News winner Steve Grant, anchorman at KYTV in Springfield, Missouri, won Karant honors for coverage of an airport improvement controversy in a nearby Missouri town. Grant contrasted the local debate with the experience of two other small Missouri towns whose airports yield demonstrable economic benefits for their communities.
Going beyond the standard interviews with city officials and airport management, Grant interviewed business people in other towns who use their local airport, illustrating that airports support commerce and jobs in communities that support them.
The Missouri native also covers transportation stories in air travel, airline deregulation, and safety. His interest in safety was intensified several years ago after being first on the scene of an aircraft accident involving a reporter and a news photographer.
TV Feature winner Scott Thompson is billed as "The Oklahoma Traveler" at KOTV in Tulsa. His statewide features led him to South Coffeyville, Oklahoma, the last production facility for Funk airplanes. His story on the Funk brothers, their Funk airplane, and their aviation dream featured historical footage, loving owner testimonials, and reminiscences by surviving brother Joe Funk amid company memorabilia. Evident was the love of aviation that kept the Funks going in the 1940s and keeps Funk owners devoted today.
Those Fabulous Funks is but one of many award-winning works by Thompson, whose assignments have taken him to six continents. His beat includes "stories TV never tells anymore."
Oklahoma's "most honored broadcast journalist" is also weeknight co-anchor on Tulsa's Channel 6. Previous honors have included several Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio and Television News Directors Association plus four Emmys and 19 Emmy nominations.
The Karant radio winner is Susan Wiencek, news director of WNND-FM "Windy 100" in Chicago. Her winning radio entry interviewed Chicago's Lifeline Pilots organization that provides volunteer emergency medical flights to persons in need in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.
Her interview illustrated that general aviation often involves more than just recreational flying and serves the community in many unseen ways.
"Listeners learned that general aviation flying can benefit everyone, not just those who fly," Wiencek's Karant Award read.
Wiencek's radio career began near her Southern Illinois University alma mater, then took her to Fort Dodge, Iowa, before returning to public radio and commercial outlets in northern Illinois. A Chicago native, she has previously been honored by UPI, the Illinois Broadcasters Association, and the Chicago Headline Club.
Honorable mentions in the radio category went to Mark Urycki of WKSU-FM in Kent, Ohio, for "Blimp Crash" and Tim Jon of WAGE-AM in Leesburg, Virginia, for his "Eulogy for Don Engen."
The annual journalism competition judges entries solely on their fair, accurate, and insightful coverage of general aviation. Entries are judged by persons with direct experience in each media segment both on and outside the AOPA staff. This year's print category judge was Charles Spence, former newspaperman, aviation and media executive, and contributor to The Flyer newspaper of Tacoma, Washington.
The AOPA Karant Awards memorialize the former newsman, AOPA pioneer, association senior executive, and first editor of AOPA Pilot magazine, the late Max Karant.
October 20, 2000