Don Tagala is 2021 New York Press Club Journalism Awardee for Community Coverage on superheroes at the frontlines of COVID-19


The ‘Hurst crew’ (Elmhurst Hospital crew) came out for the “siren salute” to say goodbye to 58-year-old Erwin Lambrento, an ER nurse. | Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN

Don Tagala | File Photo

NEW YORK – Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News Senior Correspondent and president of the Filipino American Press Club of New York, added another feather to his cap. The New York Press Club awarded him the 2021 Journalism Award for Community Coverage with his multi-media report, Filipino ‘Superheroes’ at the Frontlines of COVID-19 Wear Scrubs, Not Capes.

The annual New York Press Club Awards for Journalism honor excellence by writers, reporters, editors, producers, photographers, and multimedia journalists. Entries this year were judged in 30 categories, including sub-categories for print, broadcast, and the Internet.

In a statement, ABS-CBN News described Tagala’s story as a “strong yet honest look at the how these warriors faced the daily risk of combating the deadly, yet invisible coronavirus at the height of the pandemic last year.” Despite the pandemic which shook the world and turned people to stay at home, Tagala went to the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and other hospitals and spoke to Filipino nurses and other healthcare workers seeking their stories.

“They were putting their own lives on the line, as well as the lives of their family members who live with them,” Tagala said. “Covering the Filipino community during the early part of the pandemic was tough because at that time we didn’t know a whole lot about the virus, how it’s transmitted, who gets infected, who dies and who lives.”

In his report, he described how the “Hurst crew” (Elmhurst Hospital crew) “came out for the siren salute.’ It’s their way of saying goodbye to 58-year-old Erwin Lambrento, an ER nurse who many described as the “king of triage” and a stalwart on the night shift.” Tagala also wrote about how some nurses worked on the front lines to save others and spoke to several survivors “who lived to tell their stories.” He said, “it was cathartic for him to hear their stories of struggle and isolation … some were on the verge of giving up, ready to die, but many fought to stay alive.”

According to Tagala, “community stories like these are sometimes not on the radar of mainstream media, that is why it is important for ethnic media outlets like ABS-CBN News, through TFC News, to carry these stories and bring these stories to a larger audience while doing so.”

The nursing staff at St. Joseph Hospital in New Jersey | Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN

TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News North America Bureau Chief, emphasized the importance of ethnic media and expressed his gratitude to the New York Press Club “for giving attention to community stories where “ethnic media truly shines and can tell the stories on the ground in the most authentic way.”

“Filipino ‘Superheroes’ at the Frontlines of COVID-19 Wear Scrubs, Not Capes” was part of the COVID-19 Reporting Fellowship project with the New Jersey ethnic and community media from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

CBS News is the major winner, with Norah O’Donnell Investigates: Sexual Assault in the Military bagging the 2021 Gold Keyboard Award, the competition’s highest honor. CBS News and The New York Times were the top award winners with nine and eight, respectively.

Additional winners in 30 categories were selected from almost 600 entries submitted by TV, radio, newspapers, websites, magazines, and newswires in New York City and around the U.S. Awards will be presented later this summer during an online event.

Tagala is an award-winning Video Journalist of ABS-CBN North America’s “Balitang America.” He has won a total of 7 Bronze Telly Awards since 2012, including “Casting Call: The Story of Sam Milby,” which also won the 2013 Plaridel Award for Best Documentary.

He thanked the New York Press Club for such prestigious recognition of his work amid the pandemic, which he said was a callous one for him to experience for almost 16 months.

“A deadly virus threatened our existence, the shutdown of ABS-CBN and its franchise with more than five thousand of my co-workers losing their jobs for no valid reason at all, I lost friends to COVID, and I also lost family members to non-covid related deaths,” he told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “This journalism award for community reporting means a whole lot to me, it’s like a warm ray of sunshine that pierced though a year or so of pandemic darkness.”

New York Press Club President Debra Toppeta applauded all the award recipients and added that the level of entries attests to the continued good health of journalism and the wonderful work journalists do. “We had a record number of contestants this year, all from stand-out reporters, editors and producers,” said Toppeta. “During a difficult year with numerous challenges, the work of journalists continued at a high level, a testament to their dedication to the profession.”

Read Tagala’s winning multi-media story here.

–With Ricky Rillera/PDM

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