Jonathan Walsh was a student at Meadville Area Senior High School when his mom told him about a job opportunity.
The Meadville Tribune was looking for student correspondents to write stories about goings-on in local high schools, and Walsh decided to apply.
“I had written for the newspaper in junior high and high school and so forth,” said the now 47-year-old Walsh. “So I submitted some of the things I wrote, and they liked it. I have to blame my mom for my success.”
Now working at Cleveland’s News 5 as an investigative reporter, he and Chief Photographer Andy Sugden discovered a story that recently earned a National Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).
His road to a national award wasn’t exactly clearcut, however. Walsh and Sugden were investigating a separate story of a man’s water bills and an issue he was having with his condo association.
“So we went out there, and we were talking, and he said, ‘Oh, by the way, you know what you should really do a story about is this golf program just down the road,’” Walsh said. “It’s called The Turn. That’s how an investigative unit falls into what turned out to be one of the best stories I’ve ever put together.”
The Turn is a program that allows people with disabilities, particularly those with severe physical trauma, to play golf with the aid of paramobile carts, lifts and on-site physical therapy. Walsh highlighted the stories of participants while intercutting between action on the fairways and encouragement from organizers.
“These people work with all of the participants, whether it be physical therapy, getting them used to these paramobile devices that helped those who are paralyzed to stand and swing the club and hit the ball to just hanging out with friends,” Walsh said. “A lot of times the people who are hurting the most, this gets them out and it really is about the friendship. This story is so much less about golf and more about the human spirit.”
He was at a national investigative journalism conference in Houston when he spoke with his news director on the phone. He teased him about some error on his expense report, and then told Walsh the real news of “The Turn” winning a National Murrow Award.
“I was just jumping,” Walsh said. “I may have disrupted a few lectures going on at that conference. It was exciting. It’s one of those things you don’t expect to ever happen.”
Walsh will receive the award at a gala on Oct. 14 at Gotham Hall in New York City, but the National Murrow Award is not the first in Walsh’s trophy case. He has nine Emmy Awards, six Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and 18 Associated Press Awards over the course of his two-decade career spanning stints in Ohio, Minnesota, Texas and Pennsylvania.
“It really was a passion of mine,” Walsh said of broadcasting. “I worked at it and worked at it, moved around to several markets, started submitting stuff for various awards and things. I guess some people liked what I was doing. It’s been a wild ride.”
He noted how the role of a broadcaster has changed from solely focusing on television to creating for the web and social media. For aspiring journalists, Walsh advised them to hone their writing craft rather than look for the nearest camera lens, noting on-air reporting is “just 10 percent of what we do.”
“The other thing is knowing how to approach people who have good stories and want to tell, gaining their trust and doing solid journalism,” Walsh said. “You have to be creative because in this world where 10,000 messages come at you in a day, how is your story going to stand out?”
Looking ahead, Walsh said the award pushes him to be “even more conscious about the stories” he pursues.
“I think it challenges me to keep my storytelling at the highest level possible because I am surrounded by fantastic talent,” Walsh said. “Whether that’s regionally, nationally, I just have a very competitive edge to me, and I want to stay at this level and excel.”
As for Meadville, he said his mother and sister still live in town, and he visits regularly.
“Of course, I transitioned to more of broadcast when I went to college,” Walsh said. “But I’ll always remember The Meadville Tribune as a critical part of my career.”
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.