Kate Lao Shaffner was in the middle of shooting a story when she received an email.
This by itself was nothing remarkable. As a reporter for WPSU-FM, Shaffner shoots a lot of stories. She reads a lot of emails.
Discovering that she had been bestowed the regional Edward R. Murrow Award by the Radio Television Digital News Association — that was a bit of an experience.
“It’s an honor. It’s an exciting award,” Shaffner said.
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Honoring outstanding achievements in electronic journalism, regional winners of the award advance to a national competition, the results of which will be announced in June.
Shaffner’s award-winning story, “Leasing Water Systems,” looked at several cities across Pennsylvania debating the efficacy of leasing or selling assets as a way to offset strained budgets.
If it all sounds a tad technical, that’s because it’s actually very technical — and Shaffner was tasked with finding the human element in a story that on paper seemed more suitably told in a series of pie charts or bar graphs.
“Usually that means finding the people who are living through those issues day to day,” Shaffner said.
It’s a common refrain in her work as one of four reporters for “Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival” a collaboration between WPSU and three other public media newsrooms that examines Pennsylvania cities in distress.
Although interacting with people comes naturally to Shaffner, matters of municipal policy are a different story — but, once upon a time, so was journalism.
Shaffner received a masters in international affairs from Penn State, a process that required her to either write a capstone thesis or find an internship.
It wasn’t a hard decision.
Many of her classmates flocked to bigger cities, but Shaffner realized she might be in State College for the long haul and opted to earn her school credit at WPSU.
After she was given the opportunity to report her first feature story, Shaffner knew she was hooked.
“I feel like I found something I was passionate about,” she said.
When she joined the “Keystone Crossroads” team in 2014, Shaffner realized that her unfamiliarity with municipal policies allowed her to approach her stories on the same level as her listeners.
“It gave me a face-to-face look at the kind of decisions cities have to make when they are in trouble,” Shaffner said.
The experience has given Shaffner a love for Pennsylvania, one that she will take with her when she leaves her job at the end of the month to move to Taiwan with her family.
Shaffner spent most of her childhood in Taiwan and has often thought about returning with her husband and two young daughters.
“It seems like it’s the right decision for the family even though it’s hard to give up a job that I love,” she said.
She may be giving up the job, but not journalism. Shaffner is confident that she will return to her reporting roots in the future.
In the meantime, the award makes for a lovely parting gift.
“It’s kind of nice to go out with a bang,” Shaffner said.