Eric Seals wins Murrow award for shipwreck story

Eric Seals of the Detroit Free Press. (photo courtesy of Eric Seals)

By Katelyn Umholtz

Eric Seals, a photo and video journalist at Detroit Free Press and NPPA member, won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award on June 21 for his video about the shipwreck of Hydrus, a boat that sank in Lake Huron during the Great Storm of 1913.

The seven-minute video featured the discovery of the shipwreck and won in Features Reporting for Large Online News Organizations category awarded by the Radio Television Digital News Association.

“I didn't even know that the Free Press had entered my Hydrus video for the Murrow,” Seals said. “Then I get an email saying ‘congratulations’ and I was just floored and happy all at the same time.”

From July to November of 2015, Seals worked a total of three weeks along side reporter Jim Schaefer. This work included extensive research, interviews, shooting video and editing.

He also worked closely with David Trotter, who is featured in the video, and the divers who actually took some of Seals’ equipment into the water to get footage of the shipwreck.

Seals had been working on the larger documentary Graveyard of the Great Lakes that featured Trotter, so it was easy to take on the award-winning Hydrus story with those contacts.

Eric Seals, front row middle, at midship with the crew of David Trotter's diver boat, the Obsession Two. (photo by Eric Seals)

 Seals said it was fun to work with the crew because they shared the same curiosity for the Great Lakes.

“I was so used to shooting these shipwrecks from the documentary I've been working on for two and a half years that in terms of putting this together, it was about just telling the story from the eyes of David and from what the divers shot,” Seals said.

“I grew up in Southfield, which is a little north of Detroit,” Seals said. “We never did the boating or Great Lake stuff, so I was always curious. And as a journalist, if you find stories you're curious about, you tend to go at it differently than if it's something you don't give a damn about.”

Seals said he writes these stories not only to fulfill his own curiosity, but to educate the people around him about the massive bodies of water that neighbor their communities. Though he was excited to win the Murrow, Seals appreciates seeing his video being shared within the community. It was even a top-trending item on Facebook.

“The power of journalism is when the things you work on can affect people to learn something new, but also for them to become curious and investigate it,” Seals said.

So often Seals hears about newspapers not giving their journalists the resources to produce their stories, and that can be seen in their work. This story would not have been possible, Seals said, if it was not for the Free Press that supported the time it took for him to produce it.

“Props to the Free Press for understanding that in order to do video storytelling the right way, it takes time.” Seals said. “If editors and publishers at newspapers invest the time in their photo and video journalists to go out and shoot stories, tell them well and edit them well, the results will be good.”

Trailer: "Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwreck Hunter's Quest to Discover the Past" from Eric Seals on Vimeo.