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Channel 7 wins duPont-Columbia award, broadcast TV's Pulitzer, for plane crash investigation

Last March, we lauded 33 Minutes to 3-4 Right, an unusually ambitious half-hour long Channel 7 documentary about the December 2008 crash of Continental Flight 1404, and the thirty-minutes-plus it took for the first ambulance to arrive on the scene.

Turns out we weren't the only ones impressed. The program has just won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award for excellence in broadcast journalism -- the TV equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize.

Correspondent Tony Kovaleski, who put together the doc with big assists from producers Arthur Kane and Tom Burke and photojournalist Jason Foster, notes that the hopefuls for this bauble went well beyond local stations. "Shows like Frontline on PBS, 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline were all competing in the same venue for the same award -- which makes it a tremendous honor."

As Kovaleski points out, the story prompted action at Denver Health. "Now, there's a dedicated ambulance at the airport, and a red-alert policy in place that says if a plane crashes, we're going to roll five ambulances, no questions asked." But these alterations would never have happened if Channel 7 hadn't made the bold decision in this era of budget cutting and diminished resources to invest in the project, and in investigation generally.

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"This is just more testimony to the tremendous commitment that 7News and KMGH have toward investigative journalism," Kovaleski says. "They understand what it takes to do the kind of stories that bring positive change to the community. Jeff Harris, our news director, said, 'We're going to do a thirty-minute special on this,' and when we did, it really resonated with the city. They knew we not only had the facts, but we had a commitment to this issue.

"I don't want to slap other outlets," he goes on. "I just want to take a moment to recognize what we have. It's one thing to dig down and find a great story. It's another to have this kind of support, so viewers can see what's wrong and what needs to be fixed."

A similar problem had better not crop up on January 21. That's the day Kovaleski and company will be in New York City to accept their award -- one that's particularly well-deserved.

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