2009 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism
“The Journalism Center Announces Winners of 15th Annual Contest”
June 24, 2009 – The Boston Globe’s examination of a state’s failure to save a young girl from a life of neglect; KOLR-TV’s (Springfield, Mo.) remarkable three-year journey to tell the story of one young man trapped in a nursing home for the elderly; and the Akron Beacon Journal’s series on the economic story of our time are among the winners of the 2009 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism. The medals are presented by the Journalism Center on Children & Families and funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Other news organizations taking top honors in the 15th annual contest include USA Today, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Newsweek, Long Island Press, The Charlotte Observer, Roanoke Times, WNYC-FM and Public Policy Productions. The Washington Post wins its third consecutive Casey Medal; both The Dallas Morning News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer win their second consecutive medals.
All winners receive a Casey Medal and $1,000 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Over 600 journalists from across the nation entered this year’s contest. Judges sought masterfully reported, compelling stories that cut through compassion fatigue on socially significant topics; demonstrated enterprise and thorough research; and showed evidence of impact.
The Journalism Center on Children & Families is a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Since 1993, the Journalism Center has helped more than 14,000 journalists cover critical social issues by providing training, resources, story ideas and more. This year, the center has received support from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Challenge Fund for Journalism, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Ms. Foundation for Women, McCormick Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and individual donors.
The center is pleased to announce that the America’s Promise Alliance is launching its first annual Journalism Awards for excellence in coverage of youth issues. (America's Promise winners were announced in October 2009).
PROJECT/SERIES 200,000 plus circulation
Winner (tie): “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic air and America’s schools,” USA Today, Blake Morrison and Brad Heath
USA Today spent eight months investigating the impact of industrial pollution on the air outside schools and its toxic effect on children. The project deserves top recognition for its commitment to a demanding, nationwide investigation as well as its exemplary use of database and computer-assisted reporting. The team used the government’s own database and research and then mobilized their own resources to gather comprehensive data on air quality to analyze exposure and toxicity. The project is a prime example of both public service journalism and classic investigative reporting.
Winner (tie): “The Cruelest Cuts: The human cost of bringing poultry to your table,” The Charlotte Observer, Ames Alexander, Franco Ordoñez, Kerry Hall, Peter St. Onge and Ted Mellnik
This series on the poultry industry pulls the curtain back on many hidden issues: worker safety, industrial food production, immigration violations and lax government oversight. The Observer’s team spent 22 months analyzing government safety data, reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing more than 200 poultry workers, many of whom were undocumented workers and afraid to speak out. By holding the powerful accountable, The Charlotte Observer’s enterprising investigation shows why strong local newspapers are so vital.
Honorable mention: “Chemical Fallout,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was one of the first to take on the issue of chemicals in consumer products. The series set off a frenzy of legislative activity around Biphenyl A and other chemicals used in plastic baby products. Eventually, it led to a ban on BPA in some states and restrictions on another class of chemicals, known as phthalates.
PROJECT/SERIES under 200,000 circulation
Winner: “The American Dream: Hanging by a thread,” Akron Beacon Journal, David Knox, David Giffels, Betty Lin-Fisher, Dennis J. Willard, Mark Price, Tracy Wheeler, Cheryl Powell, Lisa Abraham, Kim McMahan, Jim Mackinnon, Mary Beth Breckenridge, Katie Byard, Bill Lilley, Ed Suba, Karen Schiely, Phil Masturzo, Mike Cardew, Ken Love, Deb Kauffman, Rich Steinhauser, Dennis Earlenbaugh, Scott Babbo, Elissa Murray, Betsy Lammerding, Dan Kadar, Jim Arnold, Bruce Winges, Kim Barth, Mark Turner, Kathy Fraze, Larry Pantages, Lynne Sherwin and Doug Oplinger
Vivid, on-the-ground portraits of real people illustrate the plight of families driven into bankruptcy and other economic hardships with razor sharp clarity. The project gains power from the use of narrative techniques, including scenes and dialogue, to illustrate the struggle of declining wages, rising health care costs, soaring tuition and shrinking retirement funds. An extraordinary undertaking and an innovative approach to making a complicated story into one that brims with insight and humanity.
Runner-up: “Section 8: Subsidizing suburbia,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Gregory Korte and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer series should be required reading for journalists on how to make a policy story come to life. This examination of Section 8 housing explores not only the history and the data, but also the emotional and social impact on thousands of families in several Cincinnati neighborhoods. It’s an honest depiction of how things can go wrong even when a federal program is working.
Honorable mention (tie): “Crossing the Line: Abuse in Hawai’i homes,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Rob Perez, Kevin Dayton, Jeff Widener and Russell McCrory
This hard-hitting, groundbreaking project starts with a staggering statistic – a 64 percent drop in reports of domestic abuse in the last decade – and builds a compelling, sound case for how distrust in a broken system has caused violence to go unreported. Data, narrative reporting and even a victim’s posthumous diary vividly illustrate the failings of police, courts and social services. Furthermore, the project’s inclusion of resources for abuse victims translated into10 languages demonstrates the paper’s commitment to its diverse readership.
Honorable mention (tie): “Children of Poverty,” The Buffalo News, Charity Vogel, Mark Sommer, Dan Herbeck, Peter Simon and Melinda Miller
The Buffalo News staff dug into one of the most difficult and troubling weaknesses of the world’s richest nation: its inability to reduce poverty. By focusing on children, this comprehensive project paints a sobering portrait of the unfair scope and ravages of impoverishment, particularly in the areas of health and education.
SINGLE STORY 200,000 plus circulation
Winner: “A Girl’s Life,” The Boston Globe, Keith O’Brien and Donovan Slack
This heartbreaking story endears 14-year-old Acia Johnson to strangers who have never met her. Acia and her sister lived a life of neglect in a troubled home, ultimately dying in a house fire. Once emotionally connected, readers are primed to grasp the shortcomings of the state’s system for protecting its children – usually from the children’s own family. Letters to the editor and an investigation of Acia’s case by the state’s new Child Advocate show the impact of this moving story. The piece brings home the tragedy not only of Acia’s life, but also those of countless children like her.
Runner-up: “Opting Out,” The Wall Street Journal, Geeta Anand
This story is explanatory journalism at its best, offering a fresh way to tell an all too familiar tale about accessing health care. Anand reports on a novel set of circumstances facing Amish and Mennonite communities: They reject participation in health insurance and government-assistance programs for religious reasons, paying for medical care in cash. In the end, however, the challenges they face don't sound that much different than the ones facing millions of Americans who struggle to afford the cost of health care.
No honorable mention.
SINGLE STORY under 200,000 circulation
Winner: “ ‘Gravely Disabled’: Broken mental health care system wastes money, chances, lives,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Carol Smith
“Mental illness is an insidious form of identity theft, erasing one future and replacing it with another,” writes Smith in this powerful tale that brings home the nightmare of families who try to navigate one state’s broken mental health care system. The writing is original, compelling and clear. The story deftly moves from a wrenching narrative of a mother grieving for her tormented son, to a news peg of a recent shooting spree, to explanatory reporting on overtaxed state resources.
Runner-up: “Tracking Down a Killer,” The Capital Times, Shawn Doherty
What at first seems like a harmless sore throat slowly takes a 16-year-old girl to the brink of death. Doherty’s poignant account of her daughter’s mysterious illness reads like a detective story, as doctors narrow down the possible suspects to one potential killer: Lemierre’s syndrome. The piece raises awareness of the rare and little known disease, which is a consequence of trying to limit the use of antibiotics.
Honorable mention: “Raised with Autism,” The Virginian-Pilot, Elizabeth Simpson
This unflinching story takes us into the harrowing world of the mother of an autistic teenager, conveying both the maddening frustrations and the unconditional love. Autism is estimated to affect 1 in 150 children under the age of 21. As autistic children become autistic teens, this story spotlights the dilemma facing their families: What will become of adult children who cannot care for themselves?
No winner or runner-up.
Honorable mention (tie): “Work & Family,” The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger
These columns highlight family issues in a powerful, poignant way. Shellenbarger’s columns not only show how public policy needs to reflect the concerns of children, but also provide solid advice for parents, such as her column on how the economic downturn affects children. The column on the debt burden on young adults is a must-read for parents of college-age children who are adjusting to doing their own finances. Her writing is graceful, her points sharp, her solutions sensible.
Honorable mention (tie): “One School: A World of Difference,” The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Karen Francisco
A fresh approach to how one school tries to balance the needs of its community with its efforts to comply with No Child Left Behind. Francisco took the time to examine what it means when a school doesn’t meet federal standards. By taking readers inside a struggling elementary school that is trying to overcome the odds, Francisco offers a remarkable opportunity to understand the teachers, staff and 150 immigrant and refugee children who struggle with poverty and grasping the English language.
Winner: “Growing Up Bipolar,” Newsweek, Mary Carmichael
Carmichael’s article on Max Blake, a 10-year-old boy with bipolar disorder, is moving and vivid. She didn’t blink or look away from the difficulties faced by Max and his parents: the strain on their marriage, their struggles to love him, the limitations of his future and the degree to which he pushes the limits of what a child can expect from his parents. Carmichael clearly spent the kind of time with Max and his family that enables a reporter to write with insight and close-to-the-ground detail.
Honorable mention: “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy, E.J. Graff
Graff exposes a problem that’s global in scope – how Western demand for newborn babies from underdeveloped countries is creating a corrupt international adoption market. It is a difficult and fairly thankless subject to tackle, but this work breaks new ground.
Winner: “Long Highland,” Long Island Press, Robbie Woliver, Michael M. Martino Jr. and Timothy Bolger
This is the epitome of public service journalism. The Long Island Press made a commitment to educating its community about a growing heroin epidemic among young people. The team simultaneously reveals a hidden scourge and a disturbing truth about the community at large. The series exposes wrongdoing and deception by school administrators, who stonewalled the reporters and put their schools’ reputations above student health. Readers see the problem from all angles – through the eyes of kids, parents, schools and cops. The story did what the best stories do: It galvanized an entire community to take action.
Runner-up: “Who’s Your Daddy?” Dallas Observer, Megan Feldman
A revealing examination of Texas’ child support system: Many men, mostly poor ones, are forced to pay child support for children they did not father. While Feldman fairly points out the state’s nationwide recognition for enforcing child support laws, she deftly explores the many troubling questions that could have simply gone unasked. Has the state railroaded poor, uneducated men into financial hardship? If Texas receives federal funds based in part on the amount of child support that it collects, is there a budgetary incentive to close these cases? And what happens to the men whose rights are trampled?
Honorable mention: “To Hug a Porcupine,” New Times Broward-Palm Beach, Deirdra Funcheon
The piece exposes a tragic adoption scenario: In an effort to place three brothers, Florida’s Department of Children and Families concealed the traumatic sexual abuse endured by the boys. The adoptive parents wanted to create a family and make a difference in the world but in the end, it’s their world that is upended. The piece is well-crafted, suspenseful and packed with rich detail. Funcheon weaves classic narrative with superb reporting.
Winner (tie): “America's Shame: 50 million suffer from a lack of affordable healthcare,” The Washington Post, Michael S. Williamson
Classic, beautiful photography that covers one of today’s greatest issues – health care – but also gives it a face. These photographs capture the struggle to stay healthy endured by so many, as Williamson photographs the hundreds of uninsured and underinsured Americans who flocked to an annual 3-day free field hospital in Wise County, Va. He is both documentarian and witness: His wrenching pictures cover the scope of activity, yet portray the hope and expectation in the eyes of the patients. Ultimately, the photographs capture the intensely personal moments that offer the insight needed to better understand this crisis.
Winner (tie): “At the Edge of Life,” The Dallas Morning News, Sonya N. Hebert
This series about palliative care is innovative; it may be a photojournalistic first. It is not just a story about death; it is about the way people die and how some special people care for the terminally ill. The photojournalist covered all of her bases in this solid and carefully documented work. Hebert did an incredible job gaining access to this story, and then to get so close - perhaps closer to the subject than any of us want to be – speaks to the trust she was able to earn.
Honorable mention: “The Girl in the Window,” St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Melissa Lyttle
Lyttle’s images are well-crafted in a true documentary genre, as the life of a nearly abandoned child unfolds after years of abuse. Her keen work documents how the new life of a child, Dani, unfolds as she is welcomed in by an adoptive family. The images are strong, intimate and emotional. It is a remarkable photographic essay of a lost child and her newfound family.
Winner: “Age of Uncertainty,” Roanoke.com/The Roanoke Times, Beth Macy, Josh Meltzer, Seth Gitner, Carole Tarrant, Tracy Boyer, Alec Rooney, Meg Martin, Matt Chittum and Grant Jedlinsky
A brilliantly structured presentation on the challenges facing a region and its aging population. By documenting the stories of caregivers, patients and families, the multimedia project is a great balance of narrative and user utility – not an easy thing to achieve. The incorporation of numerous social networking sites demonstrates a creative use of the medium to tell an important story.
Runner-up: “The Boys of Christ Child House,” Detroit Free Press, Brian Kaufman, Kathleen Galligan, Regina H. Boone, Kathy Kieliszewski, Robin Erb, James Thomas, Craig Porter and Nancy Andrews
An incredibly engaging presentation about the lives of children in a Detroit foster home. Thoroughly reported and well designed, the piece focuses on a world that is often removed from the public eye. The combination of video and stills is particularly effective; the entire multimedia presentation is intuitive and items are easy to find and navigate.
No honorable mention.
Winner: “Growing Up in the System,” WNYC Radio Rookies, Shirley Diaz, Raymond Henderson, Krystle Monclova, Kaari Pitkin, Melissa Robbins, Sanda Htyte, Courtney Stein and Marianne McCune
These first person stories personalize the foster care system and the challenges facing the children within. Each reporter is a teen who has been, as they say, ‘in the system.’ The writing, narration and production are emblematic of superb radio journalism. To give voice to these teen reporters is to give voice to the thousands of other kids who find themselves in that very same system: aging out, finding a home, or finding a place in the world.
Runner-up (tie): “Harlem Renaissance,” This American Life, Paul Tough and Alex Blumberg
Entrenched poverty is a complicated, nuanced issue, and some reporting on it tends to be one-dimensional. Not this story. This is an excellent report of one man’s impact on the children involved with the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. The reporter expertly mixes science and storytelling without avoiding thorny issues. It’s no wonder that many who heard or learned of the report wanted to know how they might replicate the program.
Runner-up (tie): “The Foster Care Revolution,” WJCT, Inc., Alyssa Zamora
This story provides solutions and highlights what works in the foster care system, as opposed to only reporting on what’s broken. The writing is strong and the voices from the subjects are candid.
Honorable mention: “Addolfo Davis’ Story,” WBEZ-FM/Chicago Public Radio, Linda Paul, Cate Cahan and Ken Davis
Addolfo Davis had barely turned 14 when violence and gang involvement landed him in prison for life with no chance of parole. Davis was no angel, but WBEZ’s reporting illustrates how one person can get swept up in a state’s legal system. Read part two of the story.
TV LONG FORM
Winner: “Critical Condition,” Public Policy Productions, Inc., Roger Weisberg
Compelling stories and fluid story-telling drive this sharp documentary on the lack of affordable health care. The issue affects so many in this country and has been told so often, but Public Policy Productions reports these harrowing tales in an extraordinarily intimate way. The program offered comprehensive follow-up materials through community engagements and lesson plans; the availability of online materials and tie-ins to the 2008 presidential campaign; and a mash-up map that enables viewers to locate health services for the uninsured in their area.
Runner-up: “Growing Up Online,” FRONTLINE, Rachel Dretzin, John Maggio and David Fanning
A riveting look at social networking sites and the interplay between the real and the online lives of adolescents. FRONTLINE gained remarkable access to teens and weaves their multiple stories and issues into a strong narrative. Afterwards, the program had tangible impact in the discussions it incited among communities and organizations.
Honorable mention: “Heart of the City: Chicago’s War on Violence,” BET News, Keith Brown, Antonio Neves and Fred Manzi
In Chicago, a bloody weekend in April 2008 could have just been a headline soon forgotten. But the producers demonstrated remarkable initiative as they sought access to law enforcement and the families of the victims gunned down. BET News deftly navigated a difficult terrain to tell the stories of those children lost to gun violence.
TV SHORT FORM
Winner: “Signs of Injustice,” KOLR-TV, Angie Weidinger
This is an example of local television at its best, helping real people who do not deserve terrible treatment and cannot advocate for themselves. Sade Lopez, a 15-year-old boy, was trapped in a nursing home for the elderly and mentally ill – simply because he was deaf. Because the state of Missouri would not allow Weidinger to interview Lopez as a minor, she literally waited three years for him to grow up. The power of her work and her tenacity is admirable.
Runner-up: “Swimming Lessons,” KARE News, Boyd Huppert and Jonathan Malat
A remarkable story about teen suicide, using the example of one young athlete who seemed to have it all. It is compelling, compassionate and effective without being exploitative. It would have been easy to have simply done a story and ended it there, but the additional step of having suicide prevention counselors available to talk to viewers illustrates the station’s commitment to the community.
No honorable mention.
The judges for this year’s awards were: Lynne Adrine, journalism instructor & trainer, LKA Strategies; Emily Bazelon, senior editor, Slate; Chris Booker, associate professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University; Angie Chuang, assistant professor, American University School of Communication; John Diaz, editorial page editor, San Francisco Chronicle; Michel DuCille, photographer, The Washington Post; Sandra Fish, journalism instructor, University of Colorado; Kerri Forrest, senior Washington producer, CBS Early Show; Bill Graves, staff writer, The Oregonian; Chris Hanson, assistant professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Vicki Hildner, producer, KCNC-TV; Claudia Kalb, general editor, Newsweek; Sue Kopen Katcef, lecturer, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; James Kenney, associate professor, Western Kentucky University; Michael Leland, news director, Wisconsin Public Radio; Jim Long, videographer, NBC News; Natalie Moore, reporter, Chicago Public Radio; Tanya Ott, news director, WBHM Radio; Dante Ramos, deputy editorial page editor, The Boston Globe; Mona Reeder, senior staff photographer, The Dallas Morning News; Scott Reeder, bureau chief, Small Newspaper Group; Barbara Rosewicz, managing editor, Stateline.org; Margie Ruttenberg, assistant news director, WTTG-TV; Ken Sands, executive editor for innovation, Congressional Quarterly; Naomi Schalit, opinion page editor, Central Maine Newspapers; Mosi Secret, staff writer, ProPublica; Annys Shin, staff writer, The Washington Post; and Charles Steck, photographer, Charles Steck Photography.
AMERICA’S PROMISE ALLIANCE ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL JOURNALISM AWARD
In partnership with the Journalism Center on Children & Families, America’s Promise Alliance is launching its first annual journalism award for excellence in coverage of youth issues. The America’s Promise Journalism Award will honor those members of the media whose work has helped to raise national awareness about the needs of young people and inspire communities nationwide to put the needs of children and youth first. These awards will be presented to two journalists (print, broadcast or online) selected from the pool of the 2009 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism winners. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 honorarium from the Alliance in addition to receiving the Casey medal. Winners will be announced at the awards dinner on October 27th, 2009.
The award is sponsored by Alliance Board member Jin Roy Ryu and inspired by Tim Russert, a distinguished Alliance Board Member and tireless advocate for the nation's young people. Russert was on the selection committee for the Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People Competition and emceed the Awards Ceremony honoring the winners. To learn more about America’s Promise Alliance, visit www.americaspromise.org.