NCNN’s Willoughby Honored For Balanced Reporting on Cigarette Tax

Matt Willoughby
NCNN Anchor & Reporter Matt Willoughby

The NC Prevention Partners (NCPP) recently honored NCNN Anchor/Reporter Matt Willoughby for his work.   On June 7, 2007, the organization presented Willoughby with the NC Prevention Award for Media Excellence for his news work surrounding the cigarette tax in North Carolina.

“Matt Willoughby and the NC News Network were among the first to recognize an increase in the cigarette tax as a health issue rather than a political one,” reads the award citation.  “Willoughby provided fair coverage to the story, and he helped radio listeners and colleagues think about the issue more clearly.”

Willoughby received the award at the NCPP annual meeting at The Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

“A couple of years ago the health advocates began pushing for a cigarette tax and cited studies that showed smoking among young people declined when the price of cigarettes rose to a certain level,” Willoughby told capcom about his award-winning reports.  “I began reporting then the Governor was going to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by around 50 cents in his budget and cite the studies as the reason. When that tax was approved other groups started pushing smoking bans in public places for the same reason, citing studies on second hand smoke. I did constant updates on the discussions up to this year when a smoking ban for restaurants was defeated. I always included both sides of the arguments and the award recognized the balance and unbiased reporting.”

One of the things that makes Willoughby’s reporting on the cigarette tax more striking is that he is a smoker himself.

“That is one of the reasons I got the award, I believe, because all of the health advocates knew I smoked and that bias didn’t come through in the stories,” said Willoughby.  “I think they also were impressed how I handled the stories on banning smoking at the legislative building. Many of them would come by after the ban was in place and ask me how I was handling it.”

Many of the topics on which Willoughby reports affect him directly, but he maintains a dedication to his job first and foremost.  “There are a lot of stories at the legislature that are personal to me: taxes, pay for teachers (since I am married to one) and other changes that would affect my life, but I cover them objectively,” he said.

NCPP uses its annual awards to honor “individuals, businesses and groups from across the state working to prevent diseases and conditions that result from poor nutrition, physical inactivity and tobacco use.”  NCPP cites those three health behaviors as responsible for two-thirds of all preventable death and disability in N.C. 

Awards were presented in a variety of categories from Legislator Excellence to School Excellence to Preventative Benefits Excellence.

NCPP is a statewide non-profit.  The organization works towards “putting prevention first for a healthier North Carolina” by “fostering partnerships, influencing policy and promoting prevention.”

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