Four members of the Spectrum staff are finalists for the 2022 Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards.
Managing editor Grant Ashley, senior multimedia editor Moaz Elazzazi, investigative reporter Kyle Nguyen and former senior news/features editor Kayla Estrada were recognized in the SPJ’s “Breaking News Reporting” category for their coverage of the May 14, 2022 mass shooting at Tops on Buffalo’s East Side.
Nguyen is also separately nominated as a finalist of the SPJ’s “In-Depth Reporting” category for his four-piece investigative series on the delayed construction of student housing complex Air Buffalo, owned by DMG Investments LLC.
In the series, Nguyen detailed the experiences of UB students and Air Buffalo tenants living in an active construction zone, interviewed a former DMG Investments employee, and reviewed the legality of the apartment complex’s displacement of tenants.
Ashley spoke about the many hours he, Elazzazi, Estrada and Nguyen put into the East Side shooting story, saying the four worked overnight into the early hours of the morning after the tragedy to complete it.
“A lot of work and thought went into that,” Ashley said. “That was definitely the biggest story I’d covered up until that time and possibly the biggest I’ve covered since, so it feels really good to be recognized for that.”
Elazzazi says the nomination is a testament to the hard work of everyone on The Spectrum’s staff.
“Without a doubt we worked really hard on that story and I’m glad we’re being recognized, but I think it’s more indicative of the work that goes down in this office,” Elazzazi said. “We have a lot of stories that could be nominated for awards and this is just one of them, and I think the amount of effort we put into the paper as a whole is kind of represented in this one award.”
Ashley described the atmosphere on the day of the shooting as feeling like “an apocalypse,” saying one could hear a pin drop in the street.
“People were kneeling in the street and crying,” Ashley said. “There was nothing and then you got close [to Tops] and it was like everything [hit you] all at once.”
“I think there’s a certain quality to a journalist that’s able to compartmentalize all of this stuff, especially when you’re on the ground seeing such awful things,” Matt Parrino, adjunct instructor for The Spectrum’s Writing Workshop, said.
Nguyen says he never expected his Air Buffalo series to become the saga it did.
“A lot of it was circumstantial,” he said about the nature of the series. “It [all] sort of branched off from the previous story.”
Nguyen attributes his articles’ success to his supervisors and mentors on staff. He is very grateful for all the hours they spent “guiding him in the right direction.”
“The consistency and the due diligence to continue to follow up on all the little pieces of that story, finding new angles and digging up new pieces is a testament to the kind of journalism that happens here,” Parrino said on Nguyen’s Air Buffalo stories.
Anthony DeCicco, editor-in-chief of The Spectrum, says he is extremely proud of his staff.
“I think it’s a testament to all the work that everybody puts in, from staff writers, editors, the editorial board, photographers — everyone,” DeCicco said.
Since 2011, The Spectrum has won 35 awards. Most recently, DeCicco won “Best Sports Column Writing” for Region 1 at the SPJ Mark of Excellence Awards in 2020.
The 2022 award winners will be announced this weekend at the 2023 SPJ Region 1 Conference in Bristol, Rhode Island.
Andrew Lauricella contributed reporting to this story.
Victoria Hill is the senior news editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kiana Hodge is a news editor and can be reached at Kiana.firstname.lastname@example.org