The Radio Television Digital News Association is honoring WSB's "Jamie Dupree 2.0" with the prestigious 2019 National Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation.
The RTDNA award is “designed to award legacy radio or television news organizations that innovate their product to enhance the quality of journalism and the audience's understanding of news.”
This is WSB's first National Murrow in 12 years, and the third major award this year for Jamie's "2.0".
"Jamie's courage and WSB/CMG's leadership in initiating this project has been inspiring. We are honored to have been recognized by RTDNA," says WSB News Director Chris Camp.
In mid-2016, WSB’s much respected and well-loved 30-year Washington Correspondent Jamie Dupree lost his voice after falling ill on a family vacation. His voice didn’t come back. It took a year of visits to specialists around the country to diagnose the problem—a rare neurological condition called “tongue protrusion dystonia.” No treatment has worked. While Jamie continued blogging, tweeting, and proving invaluable behind-the-scenes guidance, his absence from the air was obviously a major blow to our news coverage, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign.
A House floor mention of Jamie’s condition by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led to CNN, Politico, and The Washington Post picking up his story. And as it became clear that his voice wasn’t returning, our Cox Media Group tech gurus discovered a potentially-pioneering approach to getting Jamie back on the air. They sent years’ worth of his old radio reports to a software company in Scotland. Using hundreds of clips to isolate letters, syllables, and words, Jamie’s voice was essentially re-created electronically. Text-to-voice software then allows him to type his reports, run them through what we dubbed “Jamie Dupree 2.0,” then send them to us as audio.
News-Talk listeners are not known for being bashful with their opinions, and station management had some trepidation about the reaction to the simulated voice. But it was met with genuinely overwhelming affection and encouragement from the audience.
"One of the most rewarding parts of my 'new' voice has been the reaction of our listeners," Jamie says. "You cannot imagine all of the supportive messages that I get by email and social media. Yes, there are people out there who have let me know that they hate the new voice, and that they are happy I am not able to speak - but those people are far outnumbered by those who tell me to keep fighting."
The newsroom’s issue was how to handle Jamie’s return. We wanted to celebrate the moment without seeming exploitative, and the initial electronic voice was jarring enough that listeners would certainly realize it wasn’t real. We determined the answer was simply to cover it as a news story, blanketing it across all platforms and being as transparent as possible with our audience, especially with Jamie determined to press ahead.
"I guess I just look at it in pretty simple terms,” he says. "I've been dealt a giant curve-ball in life, and curling up in the corner wasn't going to solve anything.”
>>WATCH: Voice of Reason: An Intimate Look at Jamie Dupree’s Return to Air