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WDAY-TV wins national Edward R. Murrow award for ‘Trafficked’ documentary

FARGO -- Over a period of about a year, WDAY-TV reporter Kevin Wallevand and photographer Cody Rogness travelled between Fargo and North Dakota's Oil Patch, documenting the stories of sex trafficking survivors there.

WDAY reporter Kevin Wallevand and photgrapher traveled to Williston several times to report and shoot "Trafficked," which recently won an Edward R. Murrow award.
WDAY reporter Kevin Wallevand and photgrapher traveled to Williston several times to report and shoot "Trafficked," which recently won an Edward R. Murrow award. (FORUM NEWS SERVICE)
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FARGO -- Over a period of about a year, WDAY-TV reporter Kevin Wallevand and photographer Cody Rogness travelled between Fargo and North Dakota’s Oil Patch, documenting the stories of sex trafficking survivors there.

On Friday, WDAY was notified it had won a national Edward R. Murrow award -- one of the most prestigious awards for TV and radio news -- for Wallevand and Rogness’ work, which culminated in a half-hour documentary called “Trafficked” that aired in conjunction with a weeklong series of stories under the same moniker published by Forum News Service.

“I think it says a lot about the station,” Wallevand said. “Since it’s locally owned, it’s willing to do things like this. We can take on meaningful topics.”

The documentary, which Rogness and Wallevand worked on and off for a year, tells the story of women who were survivors of sex trafficking in North Dakota’s western Oil Patch.

“It’s a topic that’s hard to celebrate because we’re telling the story of the hardships of these women,” Rogness said.

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The TV documentary was part of a larger project, which also included a series of print articles and an online version of the story. Forum News Service reporters Amy Dalrymple and Katherine Lymn worked almost solely for six months on the series that was published statewide in January 2015 in Forum Communications Co. newspapers and websites.

Mary Jo Hotzler, company vice president of content, said the documentary and print stories sometimes crossed over in terms of sources, but the idea was to approach the story in different ways for each medium.

“It took us all off-guard,” Hotzler said of the topic. “It seemed somewhat foreign to us and our state. People didn’t seem to be talking about it.”

She said it was important to make sure that in telling the story, survivors of sex trafficking weren’t victimized.

Wallevand said it was particularly hard to find a way to tell the story visually.

Rogness, who now works as a videographer for Forum Communications and was previously at WDAY for four years, said he tried to combine the grittiness of Williston, N.D., with shots of survivors and oil pumps to tell the story. He said much of the trafficking and prostitution happens online, on sites like Backpage.com.

“We were able to tell some good stories through this documentary,” Wallevand said. “We didn’t just talk to politicians and experts. We met some people who lived it and are surviving it.”

Wallevand said he and Rogness didn’t have a large documentary crew to help them with the piece – it was mostly just the two of them working on the video part of the project.

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He and Rogness made several trips of about four days each to the Bakken oil fields. Meanwhile, they worked on their daily assignments as well.

“That’s what makes this kind of exciting,” Wallevand said. “It was just a small two-person team.”

Wallevand won a national Murrow award from the Radio Television Digital News Association about 10 years ago for a feature story about a woman, unable to have children after a car accident, who had her sister-in-law carry a baby for her. Wallevand’s worked for WDAY since 1983.

“We’ve been nominated for numerous Emmys throughout the years,” said Jeff Nelson, WDAY news director. “When you’re recognized by your peers, it’s good feedback that you’re doing a good job.”

Rogness and Wallevand will visit New York for an October gala where they will accept the award, given out by the Radio Television Digital News Association.

“(The documentary) accomplished what we were hoping for, and that was conversation and possibly some policy changes,” Wallevand said.

Related Topics: KEVIN WALLEVAND
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