TV Reporter, Inspired by Grandmother, Wins ASA Media Award
Melissa Russo, government affairs reporter at New York's WNBC: "New Channel 4" since 1998, took the 2003 American Society on Aging Media Award for local and regional coverage, and the investigative team of Ames Alexander and Pam Kelley of North Carolina's Charlotte Observer received this year's Honorable Mention. The awards jury of journalists and professionals in aging declined, for the first time, to present an award in the national category.
Russo was recognized especially for her five-part series, "The So-Called Golden Years," which ran the week of May 6,2002. The segments raised a public outcry causing Mayor Bloomberg's administration to back away from closing seven of 22 senior centers and shutting down a program providing weekend meals to elders in New York City. Russo covers mostly local government "with a special emphasis on senior child welfare (including foster care), homeless policy, and-since 9/11-the rebuilding of the fire department"
Russo said in an interview that she was particularly drawn to investigative reporting on stories about "where government policy has the greatest impact on vulnerable people." She began digging into me age beat "when a senior advocate approached me to talk about budget cuts to meals and the prevalence of hunger, poverty and food insecurity among New York City's elderly."
Russo's professional interest in aging took a personal turn in recent years when "I was motivated by the straggles of my own grandmother, Nonna Belsky, with whom I was extremely close. She was a strong, successful businesswoman, a manager of children in show business. She was my hero." Russo recalled that after her grandmother suffered a stroke in 2000, at age 84, she and her mother moved Belsky from her home in Florida into what was recommended as "one of the best" nursing homes in New York City for rehabilitation. In that facility, Russo said, "they would dump a toy of food in her room each night even though she couldn't feed herself." At one point, she continued, Belsky "fell flat on her face and they never called to tell us, despite a black-and-blue mark the size of an orange on her forehead. …