BEST OF GANNETT 2008: Detroit, Gannett Wisconsin Media Win Public Service
The Detroit Free Press and Gannett Wisconsin Media won the top Public Service Awards in the Best of Gannett contest for 2008.
The Free Press also won the top Freedom of Information Award.
The winners in the 32nd year of the annual contest were announced Tuesday, April 7 in a live streaming video presentation by Vice President/News Kate Marymont and News Executive Ann Clark.
Seventeen newspapers and 23 individuals were recognized in the contest. One award went to a group of newspapers, Gannett Wisconsin Media.
Five journalism professionals from outside the company judged entries in four categories for both Divisions I and II. (The judges’ names are listed at the end of this announcement.)
President’s Ring winners in News and Gold Medal newspapers will be announced Thursday, April 9 in NEWS WATCH.
Here are the results and details on the winning entries:
First Place: Detroit Free Press — For coverage of how then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and aide Christine Beatty lied about their intimate relationship when they testified in a whistle-blower case that cost taxpayers more than $9 million. The newspaper obtained 14,000 text messages that showed Kilpatrick and Beatty lied for years after punishing police officers for what they knew or might find out about the mayor’s conduct. The mayor was forced out of office, served a 120-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to two felonies, surrendered his law license and agreed to pay $1 million in restitution to taxpayers.
Judges’ comments: “There has never been a case in the history of the U.S. in which public records were used so effectively. The newspapers used FOIA as a scalpel. The coverage of the text message scandal was stunning in its volume. The Free Press went after this story in a tenacious and deliberate way. The cover up would have worked if not for the Free Press. This work represents the foundation of what we do as journalists.”
Second Place: The Cincinnati Enquirer — For coverage of the effectiveness of state and city health departments in inspecting local nursing homes after two homes passed annual inspections, despite severe conditions of patient neglect and filth. As a result of the coverage, state officials stripped the facilities of their licenses, and city council members scrapped the city inspection program, handing off the responsibility of further inspections to the state of Ohio.
Judges’ comments: “The Enquirer’s tenacity kept this issue alive. The dogged pursuit of records helped ensure that no one else would have to endure the deplorable conditions that people had to live through.”
Third Place: The Courier-Journal at Louisville — For coverage of the death of a 15-year-old high school football player after he collapsed during a practice from heat stroke. Coverage included details from witnesses who had attended a game on an adjoining field and overheard a coach deny players’ requests for water. The newspaper reported that the 911 tape showed more than 20 minutes elapsed between the time the player collapsed and 911 was called. The coach was indicted on a reckless homicide charge.
Judges’ comments: “Louisville was relentless in its pursuit of the truth. The newspaper got beyond the official statements to put together a thorough report on what happened on the field. The Courier-Journal was directly responsible for the investigation and indictment of the coach.”
First Place: Gannett Wisconsin Media — For “State of Drinking,” an examination of Wisconsin’s love affair with alcohol. Through stories, audio slideshows, interactive Web graphics, the project offered statistics, background and personal stories about the effect of alcohol use in Wisconsin. The work used independent data to rank Wisconsin in a variety of alcohol-related categories. As a result of the series, state lawmakers, including the governor, called for changes to alcohol-related laws that hadn’t been altered in decades, including tougher drunken-driving laws, sobriety checkpoints and higher taxes on beer and wine. University of Wisconsin officials announced a campaign to combat alcohol abuse. A coalition of university medical groups formed to help the state “recover from its drinking problem.”
Judges’ comments: “For the Gannett newspapers in Wisconsin to take on this public issue and this important industry was impressive and is to be applauded. The profiles of the 234 people involved in 208 accidents were ambitious. This was courageous work. The newspapers showed tremendous civic leadership.”
Second Place: The Star Press at Muncie — For an investigation into how seized drug money was being distributed by the Muncie-Delaware County Drug Task Force. The newspaper uncovered an unethical and illegal scheme that split the assets among the prosecutor, the defendant’s lawyer and the task force, which used some of its portion for gym equipment, personal trainers, etc. As a result of the coverage and subsequent investigations, the Drug Task Force was disbanded, the prosecutor had to pay back $100,000 and new procedures were established on the handling of drug cases in Delaware County.
Judges’ comments: “This was excellent watchdog journalism. The project clearly laid out a problem that had been going on for a number of years. Because of this work jobs were lost and new policies were put in place.”
Third Place: Statesman Journal at Salem — For “Raising a Community,” a project exploring the challenges facing Mid-Willamette Valley children and what can be done to improve the community’s quality of life. Coverage included monthly enterprise, the interactive Web site, the development of Community Partners and an Editorial Board campaign. The Information Center’s work resulted in a series of community meetings based on issues raised in the series. The Marion County Children and Families Commission elevated teen pregnancy as a critical issue, and the commission produced a book of the stories, which it distributed to state lawmakers.
Judges’ comments: “Salem’s project was a wonderfully broad, comprehensive and interesting look at how to improve children’s lives — from social work to food to foster care to a number of other issues. There was a nice balance of print and Web work that was effectively cross referenced. The newspaper did an outstanding job of framing a community problem and creating a dialogue.”
The Detroit Free Press receives Gannett’s top Freedom of Information award for outstanding work on behalf of the First Amendment in 2008. Four other newspapers were named finalists: The Des Moines Register, the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Daily News Journal at Murfreesboro, Tenn., and The Arizona Republic at Phoenix.
The FOI awards honor Information Centers that fight legal battles for public records and meetings, adapt First Amendment efforts to online platforms, publish editorial campaigns to educate the public on FOI and open-meeting laws, resist pressure from government entities or special-interest groups seeking to suppress the news and campaign to force government entities to open the door to the public and the press.
Judges were Barbara W. Wall, vice president/associate general counsel; Bob Dubill, retired executive editor of USA TODAY; and Kate Marymont, vice president/News.
The top award is $4,000; finalists receive $2,000.
The Detroit Free Press won for its investigation into Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The Free Press obtained text-message documents detailing that Kilpatrick lied under oath in a police whistle-blower lawsuit, costing the City of Detroit $9 million. The newspaper’s coverage resulted in Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty pleading guilty to felonies. Both resigned.
In addition, the Free Press repeatedly sought public records on other issues, including the public schools, Oakland County conviction rates, the Airport Authority, the pension board, Chrysler plant and the University of Michigan.
The judges said: “The newspaper used the tools of the courtroom and of journalism to tell this story. There was thunderous condemnation in the beginning and a healing tone when appropriate. The care with which this story was put together was evident. The work combined old-fashioned reporting skills and tenacious FOI efforts. The newspaper went to court again and again to gain access to records. This was brilliant and compelling work.”
The four FOI finalists:
The Des Moines Register was cited for a selection of work, especially coverage of the company responsible for the largest-ever immigration raid. The newspaper’s reports opened up the oversight process of assisted-living and nursing home facilities, probed the University of Iowa’s handling of a controversial and high-profile sexual assault, revealed fundraisers who misled consumers for profit and tracked the staggering price paid in collegiate sports to secure nonconference competition.
The judges said: “The newspaper fought for records from the University of Iowa and finally gained access. The nursing home piece showed a pattern of trouble and deception. It is not often we see issues-based reporting in sports. This body of work showed Des Moines’ consistent commitment to FOI issues. This was relevant, revealing and readable work.”
The Iowa City Press-Citizen was cited for shedding light on problems with the University of Iowa and how it handled a sexual assault situation involving some university football players. The newspaper filed an open-records lawsuit against the university and persuaded a judge to order prosecutors to release search warrants and other documents. As a result of coverage, the university regents re-opened their investigation against the university, resulting in several major policy changes.
The judges said: “This situation was like shouting into a mattress. That this mother would be ignored and the claims of this student would be ignored by the football department and by her own coach and fellow players was horrific. The editorial voice was clear and pointed. This was a big battle by a very small player. This newspaper showed great tenacity.”
The Daily News Journal at Murfreesboro was cited for its fight for records surrounding the police department’s internal investigation on how a crash involving an on-duty sheriff’s detective and allegations that he tried to hide liquor bottles after his police cruiser struck and killed an 11-year-old girl. The newspaper kept the story in front of the public and pushed for police to interview witnesses. It also reported that the detective’s blood test wasn’t taken until 2 甁 hours after the crash. The newspaper pressed the issue in a joint FOI request with the city.
The judges said: “This newspaper complimented FOI work with solid reporting. It was tenacious, gutsy reporting. There was remarkable symmetry in the way the newspaper pursued both the girl from a poor neighborhood and the privileged son of the police chief. These were remarkable efforts for a small staff in the face of strong community resistance.”
The Arizona Republic at Phoenix was cited for a selection of work, especially coverage related to Child Protective Services cases that resulted in three open government measures providing unprecedented access to CPS records involving child fatalities or serious injuries. The newspaper’s hard-fought access to the Child Protective Services records exposed unexplained deaths, child abuse and child neglect involving children who were supposed to be protected by CPS actions.
In other work, the Republic secured access to an accreditation report that explained why the Maricopa County’s health system lost its accreditation. It also accessed a database containing information on how many businesses actually had employees who worked at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s health-care program for the uninsured, and accessed records from the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding an investigation of a serial rapist who posed as a police officer.
The judges said: “This was a strong body of work. The reporting on Child Protective Services turned up a pattern of failure. Laurie Roberts’ columns were compelling and powerful. The newspaper went to court twice with compelling stories. This work had impact.”
Here is a list of other 2008 Best of Gannett winners
In the following categories, cash prizes are $1,000 for first place; $800 for second place; and $600 for third place.
First Place: The Tennessean at Nashville — For coverage of a tornado that hit four Middle Tennessee cities, including Nashville, on Super Tuesday. The newspaper’s Web site underwent three major redesigns that night, which included hundreds of news updates, photo galleries, videos and maps, to reflect the loss of 32 lives. Coverage on the Web and in print included first-hand accounts of the tremendous loss, the miraculous survival of a baby and survivors’ stories, as well as information on where to find safe food and water and apply for disaster aid.
Judges’ comments: “The newspaper did an excellent job of covering a story it wasn’t expecting. To shift directions (from Super Tuesday election coverage) as effectively as the staff did, spoke to the ability of that room. The print and online components were strong. This work was stunning. It reflected the strength of the human spirit.”
Second Place: The Des Moines Register — For coverage of unprecedented flooding that worked its way across the state. The newspaper used blogs, Twitter, text alerts, question-and-answer sessions with experts, video reporting, photo galleries and data feeds to show the human impact and the physical damage.
Judges’ comments: “The Des Moines Register has a reputation for being the voice of Iowa, and this story hammered that home. The newspaper used all the tools in its tool kit. Audio slide shows made you feel like you were flying down the Des Moines River. Photo galleries were amazing. Visuals in print were terrific. Writing was strong. The Register did an all-round excellent job.”
Third Place: FLORIDA TODAY at Brevard — For coverage of brush fires that threatened homes and schools across the county for a week. Staffers used interactive tools to help readers cope with an unpredictable situation. Residents posted information and photos. The print edition included dramatic fire photos and relevant news-you-can-use information.
Judges’ comments: “FLORIDA TODAY did a heroic job with this story and brought useful information to the readers online and in print. The newspaper used a variety of tools. The interactive map was excellent. The staff did a terrific job.”
First Place: The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun — For coverage of a tornado that struck Jackson and Madison County on Super Tuesday. Before police could close the campus of Union University, staffers were on the scene, providing updates, photos and video. Residents contributed three photo galleries, as well as “heroes of the storm.”
Judges’ comments: “These were strong stories and strong pictures. Sound slides were good. Print coverage was effective. The newspaper focused effectively on the university students. Video reports were well done.”
Second Place: The Desert Sun at Palm Springs — For coverage of a shooting at Toys R Us, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Coverage included breaking news text messages and breaking news videos. Editors gathered dispatches from the field and kept the Web site updated. A separate package, which focused partly on the emotions of the event, was developed for print.
Judges’ comments: ”You can’t plan for this kind of true breaking news situation. The content was written quickly and accurately. The print coverage was particularly strong. The video was good, especially the video of women trying to get back into the story.”
Third Place: Montgomery Advertiser — For coverage of a tornado packing winds of up to 160 miles per hour as it hit the east side of Prattville, a suburb of Montgomery. Staffers posted dozens of tornado-related Web postings, photo galleries and video. The print effort included up-to-date damage and injury estimates, eyewitness accounts and voices of the victims, the progress of emergency response efforts, maps and coping information.
Judges’ comments: “A good overall effort. This work had strong photography. The lead photo (in print and on the Web) showed both the devastation and the sunset.”
First Place: Linda Lantor Fandel, The Des Moines Register — For an examination of what a world-class education looks like and how Iowa schools can achieve those standards. Fandel’s work included roundtables with business people, educators and students, a blog, live chats with education experts in Finland and Alberta, a database of international test results and a quiz on international testing.
Judges’ comments: “Thoughtful work. Community conversation components were substantive. This truly engaged the community. Print and online components were tied together well. The newspaper put together a presentation with interaction that it should be proud of.”
Second Place: Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press — For a selection of editorial cartoons. Cartoons focused on Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the near-meltdown of the Detroit-based auto industry, the failing economy and the election of President Barack Obama.
Judges’ comments: “In a time when editorial cartooning is viewed as an endangered art, Mike Thompson takes this time-honored art to a digital platform with music, animation and interaction with the audience. This is a real treat.”
Third Place: James F. Lawrence, Tom Tobin, Max Anderson, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle — For “Rescue City Schools,” editorial-page special reports on how the city’s schools need to be improved. The newspaper addressed issues related to a Rochester Children’s Zone, a series of safety initiatives which were embraced by the Rochester school board and the operation of a successful local charter school. Blogs were hosted by the Rochester school superintendent, his top security chief, and two high school teachers.
Judges’ comments: “This work took the tradition of commentary to the Web in a strong way. The project had a lot of substance. This package had some of the best multimedia content. This tackled head on, a lot of different content on a lot of different issues.”
First Place: Dick Hughes, Barbara Curtain, Statesman Journal at Salem — For the Community Conversation aspects of “Raising a Community,” a project in which the newspaper partnered with community organizations to attempt to examine the challenges facing the Mid-Willamette Valley’s children and what can be done to improve their lives. The work included monthly enterprise, the interactive Web site and the development of Community Partners that the Editorial Board worked with to generate community conversation and a plan for community action.
Judges’ comments: “This project personified the category. It was particularly impressive that an editor turned an interaction with a child into such a meaningful project. It’s clear that a lot of effort will be needed to fix these issues, but raising this critical issue and putting it out for community conversation is a step in that direction.”
Second Place: Larry Gallup, Laurie Kaiser, The Post-Crescent at Appleton — For the Community Conversation aspects of a month-long series, “State of Drinking,” on Wisconsin’s love of alcohol. The newspaper hosted a State of Drinking forum, solicited community guest columns and wrote editorials. The effort helped lead to conversations about statewide solutions.
Judges’ comments: ”This work told the reader about Wisconsin’s love affair with alcohol and the people who are affected. The videos and online stories about people’s problems with drinking were touching. This work was impressive in both its breadth and depth. This did an excellent job of setting a framework for community conversation.”
Third Place: Tallahassee Democrat — For its efforts engaging doctors and community leaders in a discussion about the alarming rate of infant mortality and setting up community forums to expand the conversation. The newspaper used workshops and study groups and allowed individuals to attend via the Web. Doctors, universities and community leaders came together to work on solutions to decrease the rate.
Judges’ comments: ”The newspaper used its resources in print and online to get the conversation started in the community. Storytelling was strong. There were proven results. This was a great job of generating community involvement.”
First Place: Kathleen Galligan, Robin Erb, Regina Boone, Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press — For coverage of the plight of 6,019 legal orphans in Michigan, told through a group of orphans at Christ Child House. A team of Free Press staffers followed these children for several years. The coverage explains the challenges orphaned children face in Michigan. The work included a video documentary, an interactive How to Help component and a special print section. After the work was published, dozens of donations flooded Christ Child House. A teenage girl, adopted years earlier, located her brother, a resident of the house. Dozens of volunteers applied to help. And several children were adopted.
Judges’ comments: “The newspaper dealt with serious policy issues and tugged at our heartstrings – a combination that drew a tremendous response. This was an outstanding print and online package. This was a stunning visual report that made for incredible multimedia online.”
Second Place: Cris Barrish, Jeff Montgomery, Mike Chalmers, Hiran Ratnayake, J.L. Miller, The News Journal at Wilmington — For an investigation into state data that reflected cancer clusters in Delaware showing a higher incidence of some cancers in eight regions. The newspaper fought vigorously to obtain the cancer data. Coverage included an online forum, maps and advice for residents on what to be aware of where they live and breath. The Information Center’s coverage resulted in passage of a bill mandating the public release of cancer clusters and the ongoing funding and analysis of the underlying causes of the cancer clusters.
Judges’ comments: “This work focused on environmental justice. It took courage for a newspaper to drill into possible downsides. This was a very impressive job of tapping into public records. Classic investigative reporting.”
Third Place: Andy Gammill, The Indianapolis Star — For a selection of stories about the state of the Indianapolis Public Schools, including a report on how waste and confusion get in the way of teaching, how the state’s vetting of teachers leads to problem teachers in the classroom and how a group of students led a campaign to pay for the gravestone of a classmate killed by a family member.
Judges’ comments: ”The package called ‘License to Teach’ really stood out. This was excellent reporting of an outrageous oversight. The case files online allowed you to read files of the people who were still teaching. The work on waste in the schools showed how starved classrooms are for funds. This reporting should be done in all 50 states.”
First Place: Sam Hemingway, Emily Nelson, The Burlington Free Press — For coverage of the serious impact of a prescription drug epidemic and the effect on two families in the town of St. Albans and on the state of Vermont. Coverage included an audio slide show of people in recovery and where to find help. Coverage resulted in the St. Albans mayor seeking a state grant to help combat the problem and a group of Franklin County-area health providers unveiling a plan to combat prescription drug abuse. Sen. Patrick Leahy hosted a town hall meeting of county and medical experts to discuss the issue.
Judges’ comments: “This was well-executed work about the prescription drug addiction. Very riveting. The package took you from the beginning to the end and offered options on what to do next. We were really moved by the family who lost everything. This was a classic tragic tale of what addiction does.”
Second Place: Michael Valkys, Poughkeepsie Journal — For coverage of the decision by a local school district to pay a popular teacher two years of salary to go away after he had an affair with a 17-year-old student. Valkys’ reporting spurred legislation that is pending in Albany to change the age of consent, which is 17 under current law.
Judges’ comments: “This was a classic case of kick-ass investigative journalism. The reporting exposed what a teacher had done and raised fuel to change the law. The situation of teachers preying on students is usually a quiet thing, but this work brought it to the light.”
Third Place: Matt Gruchow, Argus Leader at Sioux Falls — For a public safety story on issues related to the disposal and sale of meth houses. It brought to light that South Dakota does not require would-be house owners with information about a home’s previous involvement in meth production. The meth story led to legislative efforts to tighten and expand laws related to the crime.
Judges’ comments: “This story brought a reaction of ‘I never thought about that.’ It was stunning to consider the lack of disclosure of the status of a meth house. The interactive map of the meth houses was quite useful to readers.”
The five judges for the 2008 Best of Gannett awards were:
Dan Barkin, senior editor/online, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Steve Buttry, editor, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Kent Middleton, professor and department head, Department of Journalism, College of Journalism, University of Georgia
Debra Adams Simmons, managing editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Liz Zavala, public safety/justice editor, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Last Modified: April 2009