Small Town News Director Honored By Nation's Public Radio Journalists

Jan 7, 2014

One of PRNDI’s early members and a former president of the organization is the recipient of the 2014 Leo C. Lee Award.  News Director Tripp Sommer of NPR-affiliate KLCC in Eugene, Oregon will receive the honor during the annual PRNDI conference in June.  Sommer is being recognized for a career committed to public radio journalism.

KLCC News Director and 2014 Leo C. Lee Award Winner Tripp Sommer, at an event in Eugene, Oregon.
Credit Steve Spoulos / KLCC Radio

“Tripp’s tireless commitment to public radio journalism is truly an inspiration,” said PRNDI President George Bodarky.  “Tripp helped grow and strengthen PRNDI during his 6 years as the organization’s president. He is a dedicated and passionate leader and teacher, and we are delighted to present him with the 2014 Leo C. Lee award,” added Bodarky. 

Sommer attended his first PRNDI conference in 1989, when it was still known as the Public Radio News Directors Association.  Within a year, he was elected president and served in that office until 1996.  During this 25 year affiliation with PRNDI, Sommer has attended all but two annual conferences.

Among his achievements was “The PRNDI Project.”  The collaborative effort helped mid-level reporters develop advanced skills through the production of a nationally distributed program.   “We didn’t just want to talk about radio at a conference, we wanted to do radio,” said Sommer.  During his tenure, PRNDI also assisted in the launch of the “Youth Radio” project.

As PRNDI president, Sommer convened a summit that authored “Independence and Integrity: The Guidebook for Public Radio Journalism.”  Among the collaborators was 2013 Leo C. Lee Award winner John Dinges, formerly of NPR.  It was also the beginning of PRNDI’s strong partnership with the Poynter Institute. “One of the primary purposes of PRNDI was bridging the gap of communication between new directors and freelancers on one side, and the network on the other,” said Sommer.

Sommer assisted in the incorporation of PRNDI and his board was the first to hire permanent, professional support staff.  The initial employee was Debbie Elliott, now a reporter for NPR. He still serves occasionally as PRNDI’s unofficial historian, authoring a history that’s posted on the PRNDI website.  Sommer also helped update the organization’s Code of Ethics.

Over the years, Sommer's news room has won over 70 awards in PRNDI’s annual Excellence in Journalism competition.  While classed as a small newsroom, during Sommer’s tenure, KLCC has trained hundreds of volunteer and student journalists.  Some, like NPR’s Andrea de Leon, Ben Trefny of KALW in San Francisco and writer/producer Alan Siporin, have gone on to make major contributions to public radio. 

“The PRNDI board wanted to honor a local news director,” said board member Charles Compton.  “Good news directors need a good domestic policy and a good foreign policy.  Award winners must know how to run a news room, and they need to make a contribution to our industry.  This is why we selected Tripp Sommer,” said Compton.

Each year, PRNDI honors an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to public radio news.  The award is named in honor of its first recipient: Leo C. Lee, the founder of Western Public Radio, a San Francisco-based public radio training program.

Sommer plans to be present to formally accept the Leo C. Lee Award during PRNDI’s 2014 conference in Arlington, VA.  The ceremony takes place Saturday evening, June 21 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.