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Jon Alpert has distinguished himself as an award-winning journalist. He has won three Primetime Emmy Awards, eleven News & Documentary Emmy Awards, one National Emmy for Sports Programming, four Columbia DuPont Awards and a Peabody Award.
Alpert, a native of Port Chester, N.Y. graduated from Colgate University in 1970. He then spent two years driving a taxi in New York City and held various odd jobs to support what he called his “growing video habit.” In 1972 he and his wife, Keiko Tsuno, started the Downtown Community Television Center, one of the country’s first community media centers. Alpert bought a used mail truck for five dollars, installed TV sets in the side, and began showing his videotapes on street corners in Chinatown. At first nobody watched, but soon his tapes about local issues began to attract small crowds.
Between 1974 and 1979, Alpert co-produced five one-hour documentaries for public television. The earliest, entitled “Cuba: The People,” presented the first American television coverage inside Cuba in ten years. The New York Times selected Alpert’s work as one of the best television productions in the country that year.
In 1976 he won one of his four Columbia DuPont Awards and The Christopher Award for “Chinatown: Immigrants in America.” His 1977 award-winning piece on Vietnam entitled “Vietnam: Picking Up The Pieces,” marked the first time an American TV crew had filmed inside Vietnam since the war.
Alpert began contributing to NBC in 1979 with his coverage of the Vietnam-China Border Wars. Over the next dozen years Alpert’s investigative reporting, editing, and camera work earned an impressive string of awards and scoops.
His journalistic sense led him to hot news spots all over the world. Alpert was the first American TV reporter to enter Cambodia after the Vietnam War. His reports provided the initial documentation of Pol Pot’s genocide and of Cambodia’s impending famine. Making many trips to Vietnam, Alpert produced a continuous stream of exclusive TV reports. He interviewed and helped repatriate the last known American POW, Bobby Garwood. He was the only reporter to gain entry into the “re-education” camps for former South Vietnamese officials. His body of work from Vietnam won two National Emmys, the Overseas Press Club Award, and part of a Peabody Award.
During the hostage crisis in Iran, Alpert provided NBC with numerous exclusive reports. He was the last reporter to gain entry into the Embassy where the American hostages were being held, and he broke the news of the conflict between Iran and Iraq. From Iran he crossed through the desert and became the first television reporter to enter Afghanistan with the Mujahadin.
Alpert continued to produce unique coverage of historical events from Central America, where he was to the only American TV reporter to remain in Nicaragua as the Sandinistas took over. When the victorious rebel army drove into Managua, Alpert filmed from the second car. Alpert was the first reporter to record pictures of the Contra war. His reports from the battlefields won many honors.
Always on the edge of breaking news, Alpert’s reports from The Philippines provided the strongest evidence of Marcos’s corruption and of the ruthlessness of the NPA guerrillas. His comprehensive reporting from all sides of the conflict earned a National Emmy.
When Fidel Castro came to address the United Nations, Alpert and his team were the only non-Cubans allowed access to Castro. This produced numerous candid interviews with the Cuban leader. Alpert also filed many exclusive reports from Cuba. He was the only non-Cuban allowed to film freely in Mariel Bay during the boatlift. He broke the story about prisoners and mental patients being sent to the U.S. The Cubans felt these reports caused President Carter to stop the exodus. They barred Alpert from the island for many years.
From the Soviet Union, Alpert brought back some of the first reports about Glasnost and Perestroika. He also won many honors for his reporting in Angola and Korea.
During the Persian Gulf War, Alpert entered Baghdad during the height of the bombing. He was the only TV reporter able to get out of the country with uncensored footage. He provided the first documentation of extensive civilian deaths caused by the bombing. His reports were awarded the Italian Peace Prize by the President of Italy. From 1993 to 2002, Alpert was the only Western reporter to interview Saddam Hussein.
Domestically, Alpert was the first reporter on national television to bring attention to the homeless epidemic plaguing our nation. He was the first correspondent to document the fiscal crisis affecting family farms in America. His series examining occupational disease and runaway factories won the National Emmy for investigative reporting and was directly responsible for the conviction and incarceration of a company official who violated safety regulations.
Alpert has reported extensively about environmental problems, economic issues, cowboys, Indians, turkey callers, whistle blowers, boxers, and breakdancers. These portraits of American culture were a regular feature on the Today Show and were singled out for their “unique contribution to American television” and awarded a special National Emmy Award.
Altogether, Alpert’s work with NBC earned a total of seven National Emmy Awards, five Monitor Awards, the Clio Award, and the Gabriel Award. Some of the Emmy Awards were for camerawork and editing. Mr. Alpert is the only Emmy-winning reporter to also be honored in the craft categories as well. He has also won a National Emmy in the Sports Division, attesting to his legendary versatility. Alpert still does his own camerawork, and he pioneered the use of the one-person ENG crew. In fact, Alpert originated many of the technological innovations that helped usher in the ENG revolution, including the initial use of inter-format computer editing, the first telecast of color ENG, and the first use of Betacam.
In recent years Alpert has worked with HBO to produce a series of investigative documentaries. “One Year in A Life of Crime” was a ground-breaking reality TV portrait of three criminals from Newark. He was executive producer of “Rape: Cries from the Heartland”. In 1995 Alpert’s “Lock-up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island” won critical acclaim and the highest ratings of any HBO documentary. Also in 1995, High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell was hailed as the best anti-drug documentary ever made. It won a Columbia Dupont Award, Alpert’s third.
In December of 1998, HBO aired “Life of Crime – Part 2”. This two-hour documentary follows the criminals from the original “Life of Crime” as they try to reform their lives. It brought Alpert his eleventh National Emmy Award. In 1998, HBO also broadcast “A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back” about the champion University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team. This program, too, won a National Emmy Award in the Sports Division.
In recent years, Alpert has produced reports for NBC about nuclear proliferation, illegal immigration, and horse milk. He has also made some unique and unusual reports for ESPN's NHL2nite show. Jon shot, skated and interviewed at the same time. He only fell once.
Alpert was invited to accompany Jesse Jackson’s delegation to Yugoslavia to free the three American prisoners of war. He was the only journalist to film their freedom ride. ABC’s 20/20 broadcast his exclusive story on May 7, 1999.
On September 11th 2001, Alpert was one of the only reporters to film the first night of rescue efforts at ground zero. His footage appeared on CBS’s Early Show and in HBO’s documentary In Memoriam. In December 2001 Alpert traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan following an Afghan-American woman’s journey back to her birthplace. This documentary From Ground Zero to Ground Zero aired on NHK Japanese television, CBC Canadian television, and PBS’s Now with Bill Moyers.
In the Spring of 2002 Alpert’s documentary “Papa” about his father’s struggles with aging and failing health aired on Cinemax on Father’s day. That same summer Alpert’s To Have and Have Not: The Changing Face of China aired on the PBS series Wide Angle. In the Summer of 2003, Latin Kings: A Gang Story, an inside look at New York’s largest and most dangerous street gang, aired on HBO. In 2004 his Coca and the Congressman chronicled the rise of then congressman, now President of Bolivia, Evo Morales for Wide Angle.
In 2005, he completed The Last Cowboy filmed over the last 24 years in Porcupine, South Dakota. While 250 families leave their farms and ranches every week in the U.S., this documentary follows a young man, Vernon Sager, grow old as he fights to maintain a way of life and sees it fade away. It aired to great acclaim on the PBS series, Independent Lens, was nominated for an International Documentary Association Award and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum.
In the summer of 2005, Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill gained unprecedented access to the 86th Combat Support Hospital, the U.S. Army's premiere medical center in Iraq. They spent two months in this trauma center and captured the stories of the staff of the 86th CSH and the injured soldiers whose lives are saved and lost within the hospital halls. Baghdad ER premiered on HBO in May 2006 to great critical acclaim. It was nominated for six National Prime Time Emmys, winning four. It also received a Columbia DuPont Award, an Overseas Press Club Award, a Christopher Award and a Peabody Award. That same summer Alpert and O’Neill directed and produced a special for the PBS series Wide Angle about the rise of conservative Muslim businessman and the conservative Justice and Development Party in Turkey, entitled Turkey’s Tigers.
In 2007 Alpert directed and produced HBO’s Emmy-nominated tribute to wounded soldiers and marines, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. Working with executive producer Jim Gandolfini to interview 12 injured veterans from the war in Iraq. Continuing in that vein, Alpert again collaborated with Matthew O’Neill to produce and direct HBO’s Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery, filming for four months in the section of our national cemetery where service-members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. This program premiered in October 2008, winning a Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award, an Emmy nomination for Exceptional Merit in non-fiction filmmaking and a Gold Hugo at the Chicago Television Festival.
Ever dedicated to the hometown hero, produced and directed the 2008 HBO Documentary, Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana, which focuses on residents of Anderson, Indiana, a town devastated by the crumbling automobile industry. As jobs are lost, residents race and smash their hot rods each weekend at the Anderson Speedway explaining, “We don’t make cars here in Anderson anymore, but we can still race them and we can still wreck them!” Also premiering in 2008 was Alpert and O’Neill’s ESPN documentary A Woman Among Boys: A Brooklyn Basketball Story about the high-school basketball team coached by Ruth Lovelace – the only woman to coach boys basketball in New York City’s toughest public school league. Following Coach Love and her team, the film shows not only the importance of victory on the court, but also the struggle for scholarships faced by some of the most talented and disadvantaged players in the league.
In May 2008, Alpert returned to China days after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, discovering a nascent protest movement started by grieving parents who wanted to know why schools collapsed during the earthquake while the structures around them stood. That film, China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province aired on HBO May 7, 2009. Alpert and O’Neill were detained by local police a day after couriering their footage out fo the country. Writing about the film in the Washington Post, Tom Shales explained that the film “might pack more power per moment of any documentary in recent memory.”
In addition to his work as a reporter and filmmaker, Alpert serves as co-director of the Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV), America’s largest and most honored non-profit community media center, which is located in a landmark firehouse in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1972, DCTV has fostered a diverse and inclusive media arts community by introducing members of the community to the basics of electronic media through hundreds of free or low-cost production courses and by making broadcast-quality production equipment affordable to emerging artists and producers. Toward this end, over the past 40 years DCTV has taught over 50,000 students, most of them members of low-income and minority communities, the basics and finer points of television production. The center holds over 150 free or low-cost video and electronic media training workshops for about 2,000 students each year. DCTV’s 2000 local members rely on its facilities to produce valuable work that would not otherwise exist. In addition to Alpert’s reporting accolades, the center has won 2 National Student Emmy Awards, 5 New York Emmy Awards and top prizes at dozens of film festivals and competitions across the country and around the world. The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) called DCTV “the standard by which all other media centers are measured”.