Liz Margerum, two-time Reynolds School of Journalism alumna (BA ’98, MA ’08) and staff videographer for the Reno Gazette-Journal, recently won a prestigious regional Edward R. Murrow Award in the small online news organization category for best video-news documentary. The documentary investigated sex trafficking in Reno. This is the first time the RGJ has won the award.

Margerum began her career at the RGJ in 2000 as a photographer. She took the newly created videographer position approximately one year ago.

The 13-minute film, titled “The Life: Sex Slavery in Reno,” features sex trafficking victims in Reno and local law enforcement who are fighting the exploitation of these victims, who are often young girls between the ages of 11 and 14.

The film was a complementary piece to RGJ reporter Martha Bellisle’s special report titled “Sex Trafficking Special Report: Women, girls held hostage on streets of Reno.”

“This was Martha’s story,” Margerum said. “She saw a need to cover this topic using a multimedia reporting approach.”

Margerum interviewed a variety of women who had lived “The Life.”

“It was pretty powerful to sit down with the women, look into their eyes and capture the emotion in their stories,” she said. “This is where video works better than the written word.”

On winning the award

The Murrow Award, bestowed by the Radio Television Digital News Association, recognizes the best electronic journalism produced around the world, in this case, the region that includes Nevada, California, Hawaii and Guam.

“When the Murrow folks called me to let me know I had won the award, I hung up on the guy because I thought he was a sales person,” Margerum said. “He called me right back and said, ‘don’t hang up, you won the Edward R. Murrow Award!’”

Prostitution in Nevada

Prostitution has been legal in Nevada since the middle of the 19th century.

“Growing up in Nevada, you know that prostitution is a legal activity,” Margerum said. “What I didn’t know, until working on this video, was that the average age of a girl getting into ‘The Life’ is 14 years old. These girls are children and don’t understand how the decisions they make now will impact the rest of their life.”

The documentary served as a real, raw eye-opener.

“Initial reaction to the documentary included shock,” Margerum said. “The average age of women being trafficked stunned viewers.”

She added, “The first step to reducing the impact of the sex trafficking industry in Reno is letting people know that this is a real problem facing our community. That is exactly what the documentary did. “

Margerum began working as staff videographer for the RGJ a little more than a year ago. She said her training at the Reynolds School gave her the foundation necessary to tell a compelling story.

“When I took the videographer job at the RGJ, I had never done video work before,” she said. “I am 100 percent self-taught.”

Margerum credited Reynolds School professors Jake Highton and Larry Dailey for helping her hone her journalistic abilities.

“Jake and Larry always cracked the whip,” she said. “I really appreciated, albeit not at the time, how these two demanded excellence and hard work. It’s because of them I’ve been able to excel as a journalist.”

Margerum said the conversational, collaborative approach to learning journalism at the Reynolds School has helped her become a successful contributor to the RGJ newsroom.

“During her time at the Reynolds School, Liz showed an unrelenting passion for learning new technologies and for communicating through those technologies, Reynolds School Professor Larry Dailey said. “I am very, very proud of her achievement, but I’m not surprised by it. She’s devoted to storytelling and I’m honored to have been a part of the team that helped her discover her passion for journalism.”