On Deadline: Emmy Award-Winning Documentary Showcases That Perseverance Wins the Prize
On Deadline: Emmy Award-Winning Documentary
Showcases That Perseverance Wins the Prize
When Rosemary O’Neill read a column in The New York Times about a local newspaper that was about to shut down in Bristol, Connecticut, it nearly brought tears to her eyes. She was a former reporter who knew that a newspaper is a vital force in any community and its demise would be heartbreaking.
She gave the column to her husband, John, a video producer, who said, “We have to tell this story.”
It was just a few days before Christmas 2008, but the O’Neills arranged to meet with Jennifer Boyd, executive producer of Connecticut Public Television (CPTV). Boyd liked the idea of chronicling the plight of a newspaper like The Bristol Press. It was a timely topic and one of broad general interest. She could provide a crew and equipment to handle the video shoots, but no funding was available. Everyone agreed to go ahead anyway.
On Christmas Eve, John O’Neill and the CPTV crew were at The Bristol Press to begin gathering the story. Why was The Press faltering? Whose fault was it? Was this happening everywhere?
The O’Neills and the crew spent the next year documenting the experience of a community threatened with losing its main source of information. They interviewed reporters and editors at The Press and from other media outlets around Connecticut. They talked to media experts who described the new pressures stifling newspapers like The Press. They explored the viability of online journalism as a replacement for traditional print.
During this process, the O’Neills transcribed dozens of interviews and culled through hours of footage they’d shot. The story was unfolding in front of them, and new information was coming out every day.
“When we took this on, I thought we’d be chronicling the death of The Bristol Press,” said Rosemary O’Neill. “I thought that if the paper didn’t die, we wouldn’t have a story.”
But the paper didn’t die, and the story kept twisting and turning. Some said the state should provide money to keep the paper alive. Others called that a “bailout.” Bristol Press reporters Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus kept hammering away at the story. Everyone was watching.
In the meantime, the O’Neills and CPTV were scrambling for funding to keep the project going. The footage had been shot, but it still needed an editor, some graphics, a narrator and music. But the recession had taken hold, and it became clear that no funding was forthcoming. They went ahead anyway.
“This story just kept getting better, and we couldn’t let it go,” said John O’Neill. “As we learned more about what was happening in the newspaper industry – and the alternatives that were emerging – we knew that this was an important story, and we had to get it out there. If we found this story enlightening and educational, we knew other people would, too.”
It was Christmas time of the next year, and the O’Neills again were in the newsroom of The Bristol Press. The paper was still alive, with a new editor and a new lease on life. It, like a few other small papers, had found a way to struggle and survive.
The shooting was now completed, and it was time to call in favors. The O’Neills and CPTV tapped into the spirit of the local production community and got Bruce Zimmerman to provide the score and Janet Peckinpaugh to narrate the program. Jeff Young, a producer, spent weeks of his own time cutting together the hour-long documentary called “On Deadline: Is Time Running Out for the Press?” It aired on CPTV in March 2010.
On May 14, 2011, the program won an Emmy award for Outstanding Documentary at the 34th annual Boston/New England Emmy awards.
“CPTV believed this project was important enough to donate crew, equipment and broadcast time,” said Jennifer Boyd. “This was a great victory for perseverance. Everyone came together with a strong commitment to telling this important story.”
About the Documentary
On Deadline: Is Time Running out for the Press?
Jeff Young, Producer/Editor
John O'Neill, Executive Producer/Director
Rosemary O'Neill, Writer
Jennifer Boyd, Executive Producer
Produced by CPTV/Kinetic Media