An enduring love story that blossomed 35 years ago between two merchants in Philadelphia’s gritty Italian Market and a West Philadelphia high school football team’s record-breaking season, driven by the memory of a slain teammate, were news stories reported by Inquirer journalists that were honored Saturday night at the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Regional Emmy Awards.

In the 190-year history of The Inquirer, its journalists have won countless awards, including 20 Pulitzer Prizes. But the awards won by four members of the newspaper’s visual team marked the first time that Inquirer journalists have won Emmy Awards, considered the top honor in television.

“It’s a new playing ground for us. ... It is exciting to be in a different arena,” Danese Kenon, Inquirer director of video and photography, said Sunday while driving home from Pittsburgh, where the Emmy ceremony was held.

“The Inquirer has always done videos, but if there’s anything new, I think we’re looking at a different kind of video. We’re looking at short films and documentary storytelling,” said Kenon, who with Frank Wiese, deputy director of photography and video, executive-produced the award-winning projects.

“The beautiful thing about working at a newspaper is the in-depth storytelling that you get in the writing. So this is just a visual way to do in-depth storytelling. I think that a lot of newspapers are going in this direction, and I’m just so tickled that we won an award doing the work that we love,” she added.

The Inquirer Emmy winners (from left to right) Astrid Rodrigues, Lauren Schneiderman, and Raishad Hardnett. Not pictured is Heather Khalifa.
Danese Kenon
The Inquirer Emmy winners (from left to right) Astrid Rodrigues, Lauren Schneiderman, and Raishad Hardnett. Not pictured is Heather Khalifa.

“Italian Market: Love on 9th Street,” a 9-minute-and-14-second video that tells the story of Mariella and Lee Esposito, who met in the market and own shops on opposite corners, won in the Feature News Report-Light Feature category. Astrid Rodrigues, Lauren Schneiderman, and Raishad Hardnett received Emmys for producing, writing and filming the piece.

Rodrigues, 34, a digital producer, has been with The Inquirer since November 2017, Schneiderman, 33, a video editor and producer, came in February 2018; and Hardnett, 27, also a video editor and producer, joined the staff in August 2018.

“Warrior Spirit,” which chronicles how the Boys’ Latin Charter School Warriors were able to overcome the November 2017 murder of teammate Jahsun Patton to win the team’s first division championship, won in the Feature News Report-Serious Feature category.

Heather Khalifa, 27, a staff photographer who joined the paper in June 2018 as part of the inaugural class of the Lenfest Journalism Fellowships, a two-year program funded by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the nonprofit that owns The Inquirer, won an Emmy for producing the 9-minute-and-24-second video. Hardnett and Schneiderman also won Emmys as videographers, editors, and producers on the piece.

Angelica Velasquez, left, and Heather Khalifa, right, work together during the Career Wardrobe "WorkIt" event, professional headshots and photo editing provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer, in Philadelphia, June 27, 2019.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Angelica Velasquez, left, and Heather Khalifa, right, work together during the Career Wardrobe "WorkIt" event, professional headshots and photo editing provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer, in Philadelphia, June 27, 2019.

“Over the past two years, we’ve focused much of our training and recruiting on expanding our visual storytelling to ensure we reach a much broader audience. These awards, unprecedented for The Inquirer, help validate the fact that we are on the right track,” Inquirer executive editor and senior vice president Stan Wischnowski, editor and vice president Gabriel Escobar, and managing editor Patrick Kerkstra said in a statement.

“This effort has required tremendous leadership and vision. Congratulations to Danese Kenon and Frank Wiese for providing that laser-focused inspiration and insight. Their team continues to elevate all facets of our digital storytelling,” the statement said.