2010 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism
The Journalism Center on Children & Families Announces Winners of 16th Annual Contest
June 29, 2010 – The Dallas Morning News’ glimpse into the plight of two new parents facing an unimaginable decision, KING 5 Television’s unraveling of a family’s two-year fight against a state’s error and WBEZ-FM/Chicago Public Radio’s comprehensive look at the dropout crisis are among the winners of the 2010 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 16th annual contest include St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, The Indianapolis Star, Mother Jones, Houston Press, This American Life and BET News. The Dallas Morning News wins its third consecutive Casey Medal.
All winners receive a Casey Medal and $1,000 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. More than 500 journalists from across the nation entered this year’s contest. Judges sought masterfully reported, compelling stories on socially significant topics that demonstrated enterprise and thorough research and showed evidence of impact. Winners are automatically considered for two additional $5,000 awards presented by the America’s Promise Alliance.
The Journalism Center on Children & Families is a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Since 1993, JCCF has helped more than 14,000 journalists cover critical social issues by providing training, resources, story ideas and inspiration.
PROJECT/SERIES: Over 200,000 circulation
Winner: “For Their Own Good,” St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Ben Montgomery, Waveney Ann Moore, Caryn Baird, Edmund D. Fountain and Kelley Benham
By chronicling decades of rape, starvation and the hog-tying of students, the six-part series exposes Florida’s oldest reform school for what it really is: a medieval-style prison for children, still open for business today, still funded by the state of Florida. The St. Petersburg Times weaves storytelling and hard facts to paint a haunting picture of the childhoods lost in the swamps, with stories and images that remain with the reader. Meticulous reporting, unflinching photographs, uncensored language and scores of documents create a victory for generations of victims whose lives have been wrecked by the abuse and whose voices had gone unheard.
Runner-up: “Clout Goes to College,” Chicago Tribune, Jodi S. Cohen, Stacy St. Clair, Tara Malone, Tracy Van Moorlehem and Peter Kendall
The Chicago Tribune reveals the dark side of special treatment in this series on the stunning abuses of power wielded by officials at the University of Illinois, the state’s premier public university. The blow-by-blow account of a well-entrenched, secret admissions system reads like a court case, complete with damning e-mail exchanges and statistics. The investigation, which led to a slew of dismissals, will likely help bring opportunities to thousands of students and their families.
Honorable mention: “Dubious Medicine,” Chicago Tribune, Trine Tsouderos, Patricia Callahan and George Papajohn
The Chicago Tribune courageously challenges doctors who peddle alternative autism remedies to parents desperate for help. Through inquisitive, fact-based reporting, the series exposes the flimsy science behind the anecdotal testimonials that underpin uncontrolled experimentation on children.
PROJECT/SERIES: Under 200,000 circulation
Winner: “Fatal Care,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gina Barton, Crocker Stephenson and Kristyna Wentz-Graff
This team went beyond the story of one child’s death in foster care to discover that 22 additional children died as a result of systemic neglect. The series features in-depth reporting matched with a strong analysis. The sidebars, graphs, photographs and a review of thousands of records add to the stories’ impact. It’s a series that got results, including a new state law that holds welfare officials accountable for the children under their watch.
Runner-up: “Omaha in Black and White: Dropouts,” Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, Paul Goodsell and Deb Shanahan
An admirable and exhaustive look at the metastasizing tragedy of high school dropouts in Middle America, especially as riddled by race. By tracing the individual stories of a single class of fourth-graders, the project makes it clear that the dropout rate affects us all, regardless of race, and that we all have a vested interest in reducing it. The community responded with philanthropic efforts and legislative measures to direct more funding to lower-income and non-English-speaking children.
Honorable mention: “Losing ’Letta,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), Amy Upshaw, C.S. Murphy, Stephen B. Thornton and Sonny Albarado
The spare, straightforward writing behind “Losing ’Letta” provides a razor-sharp focus into one haunting question: Why didn’t the community care more when a 12-year-old girl disappeared?
SINGLE ARTICLE: Over 200,000 circulation
Runner-up: “A Window into Lives Destroyed,” Chicago Tribune, Gary Marx, Matt O’Connor and Peter Kendall
This portrait tells the story of one of the most notorious murders in Chicago history – from the perspective of one of the young boys, now a grown man, who committed it. The culmination of a 15-year-long series, the sordid tale shows how two young perpetrators were victims as much as victimizers. A compelling read and a sad testimony to the damage the legal system can inflict when trying to enforce justice on young criminals who commit heinous crimes.
No honorable mention.
SINGLE ARTICLE: Under 200,000 circulation
Winner: “Jeremiah Williams’ Story,” The Indianapolis Star, Tim Evans, Alvie Lindsay and Jenny Green
A heartbreaking tale of repeated failures, poverty and an untimely death, told with sensitivity and suspense. Evans sorts through the bureaucratic maze of the taxpayer-funded agencies that are supposed to help children – but sometimes end up doing more harm than good. The story does a masterful job of revealing how individual actions, including those any of us could imagine taking, can have tragic, unintended consequences. Even Jeremiah’s guardians failed to push the limits of the child welfare system, a lapse that haunts them today. The story prompted the Indianapolis police to establish new policies and devote more attention to potential threats within the child protection system.
Runner-up: “A Missing Peace,” The Salt Lake Tribune, Julia Lyon and Sheila McCann
This eloquently written piece brought attention to a story that is rarely covered by the mainstream media: the treatment of n refugees in America. It breaks through longstanding stereotypes to portray two grief-stricken parents as individuals with a tangible history, while also highlighting the abuses and frustrations faced by other families like them. Lyon traveled to Thailand and Iowa, facing language barriers, bureaucratic roadblocks and a lack of contacts in order to report on the story. Her energetic and determined reporting is inspirational.
Honorable mention (tie): “Failing Our Students,” The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), Diette Courrégé, Grace Beahm and Doug Pardue
In Charleston, S.C., 1 in 7 adults is functionally illiterate. As children, many of these individuals passed with ease through the city’s public schools. Courrégé explored the consequences of this system through the story of one child, 17-year-old Ridge Smith. Her story produced results – a literacy campaign that hopefully will spare other children Smith’s fate.
Honorable mention (tie): “Cherry’s Choice,” The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.), Kristina Goetz and Louis Graham
Goetz’s remarkable commitment to tell 16-year-old Cherry’s story enables readers to connect with and invest in the future of a young woman whose obstacles are unfortunately anything but unique. The vivid photographs offer a poignant glimpse into the cycle of poverty, crime and hopelessness that grips so many Memphis residents.
Winner: “The Manual Project,” The Indianapolis Star, Matthew Tully and Tim Swarens
These editorials expose the heartbreaking challenges of an Indianapolis high school struggling with a low graduation rate and high poverty. Tully doesn’t sugarcoat the problems, but he inspires the readers by conveying the will and drive of all the people trying to help Manual High, from teachers and students to administrators and police. His unprecedented access to students and staff is revealed in the way the stories unfold like a day-to-day view of life. In response to the series, community leaders donated tens of thousands of dollars, the district cracked down on student misbehavior and volunteers reached out to vulnerable students.
Runner-up: “A Year at Locke,” Los Angeles Times, Karin Klein
The national education reform debate has placed charters under intense scrutiny, and this enterprising year-long project informs the public more than a study ever could. The powerful and compelling editorials bear witness to the successes and shortcomings of one Green Dot Charter School. In response, the Los Angeles Unified School District developed a charter school plan modeled after Green Dot.
Honorable mention: “In a Hungry Time,” The Oregonian (Portland), David Sarasohn and Bob Caldwell
By combining local, state and federal data with personal, compelling stories, the series reveals how close even middle-class Oregonians are to going hungry. Sarasohn laudably reported from local food pantries and school lunchrooms and dug deep into the records of policymakers in Oregon and Washington, D.C.
“A Hunger System in a Hungry Time”
“On the Front Lines of Student Hunger”
“A New Wave of Food Stamp Applicants Washes Across Oregon”
“More Kids Starving for Nourishment”
“We Must Feed Folks, and with Better Food”
Winner: “Brave New Welfare,” Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer and Monika Bauerlein
The piece offers a raw and revelatory account of Georgia’s efforts to purge its welfare rolls and put money intended to help the poor toward other programs. That a state could get away with sneakily withdrawing its safety net is both shocking and frightening. Solid reporting, strong writing and a powerful case study provide a fresh look at welfare in a time of economic crisis. Mencimer does a public service by highlighting the issue.
Runner-up: “A Vast and Sudden Sadness,” Newsweek, Claudia Kalb and Debra Rosenberg
A thoughtful look at the phenomenon of stillbirth. The specific, touching lens helps explore a shift in attitudes toward the tragedy, which the reader learns claims 26,000 babies a year.
Honorable mention: “School of Second Chances,” The Washington Post Magazine, Karen Houppert, Sydney Trent, Lisa Frazier and Beth Chang
A well-reported and powerfully written account of the Washington, D.C., Oak Hill Correctional Facility’s charter school and its efforts to overcome myriad challenges.
Winner: “For Their Own Good,” Houston Press, Chris Vogel
Who knew that sheriff’s officials in Harris County, Texas, were placing children as young as 15 in solitary confinement, bereft of counseling, physical activity and education? No one, apparently – not even the judges who sent them there. With dogged reporting and compelling writing, Vogel exposes a justice system that seems to have given up on its most vulnerable. The project prompted outrage and action, among legislators, academics and advocates.
Runner-up: “Believing the Children,” The Austin (Texas) Chronicle, Jordan Smith and Michael King
This article features exemplary investigative reporting on a sensitive issue – child sexual abuse – with national implications. There are few feats more demanding than navigating the moral imperatives of protecting the young as well as the innocent, but Smith walks that knife edge masterfully.
Honorable mention: “The Lost Kids," Phoenix New Times, Amy Silverman and Rick Barrs
A searing account of the challenges faced by parents of children with mental illnesses and a juvenile corrections system ill-equipped to help them. Tightly reported and well-written, the stories are an unrelenting call for attention and action on behalf of discarded children.
“Saving Alex: A mother finally got desperately needed help for her troubled son – by having him arrested”
“Losing Erica: Cynthia Clark Harvey doesn't want anyone else's child to die in a wilderness-therapy program”
“Suicidal Tendencies: The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections is a bloody mess”
“She Sees Demons”
Winner: “Choosing Thomas,” The Dallas Morning News, Sonya N. Hebert
These images captured the courage and love behind the gut-wrenching decision a family had to make about their unborn son. Each photo reads like a story, and the level of intimacy within them can come only if a photographer has established a strong sense of trust with the subjects. The images are intimate without being invasive.
Runner-up: “Frozen Land, Forgotten People,” Los Angeles Times, Barbara Davidson, Colin Crawford, Albert Lee and Mary Vignoles
When vying tribes couldn’t agree over boundaries in Arizona, the U.S. government banned all development in the area – a freeze that stood for 40 years and resulted in legions of impoverished Navajo families. Davidson’s beautiful images capture children growing up amid deplorable conditions – in ramshackle dwellings, often without power or safe water – with a sense of suffering, but also resilience and pride. The images represent a dignified approach at showcasing the countless misfortunes resulting from U.S. policy.
Honorable mention: “Half a Tank: Along Recession Road,” The Washington Post, Michael S. Williamson, Michel duCille and Bonnie Jo Mount
This series illustrates the most important story of our time – a tanking U.S. economy – and its implications across our country. Tightly composed, startling imagery immerses the reader in individual moments and illuminates experiences and outcomes.
Winner: “Fifty-fifty: The odds of graduating,” WBEZ-FM/Chicago Public Radio, Linda Lutton, Natalie Moore, Julia McEvoy and Sally Eisele
This investigation into a South Side Chicago high school that graduates only 40 percent of its students is thorough, brave and full of impact. The WBEZ team deemed it essential not merely to report the story from a distance – as is often done with at-risk communities – but to actually embed themselves within their sources. The broad use of multimedia makes it difficult to imagine a closer or more focused look into the heart of this story. The project led officials from Chicago Public Schools, the city’s juvenile justice system and even performer Kanye West to direct attention and resources to the students at Paul Robeson High.
Runner-up: “The Price of Miracles,” The Providence (R.I.) Journal, Felice J. Freyer, Kathy Borchers, Susan Areson, Beth Heaney, Michael Foran, Maria Caporizzo, Tony LaRoche and Cecilia Prestamo
Each installment of this series on the costs and consequences of premature births is captivating and masterfully executed. The story flows from print to video to user-friendly charts and graphics, and the diversity of subjects presents a broad spectrum of perspective and effect.
Honorable mention: “Wasted: People, money, lives,” The Daily Times (Maryville, Tenn.), Mark Boxley
These stories on Tennessee’s drug problem are spellbinding and even jaw-dropping. Boxley’s masterful use of Flash helps shine a gritty spotlight on the debilitating power of controlled substances on family life – and the hope that lies along the road to recovery.
Winner: “Tom Girls,” This American Life, Mary Beth Kirchner, Rebecca Weiker, Ira Glass and Nancy Updike
Various media outlets have covered transgender children in recent years, but not with as much deftness and tenderness. The reporters simply allow 8-year-olds Thomasina and Lilly to tell their own stories – absent are the voices of experts – and the intimate, honest approach endears them to the listener. It’s the parents of these young children who explain the heartbreaking cruelty posed by peers, a rejecting father and the ignorance of well-meaning friends. “Tom Girls” tells a story that is quite specific, but can be mapped against the struggles of every parent with a special needs child: Am I helping or hurting with this accommodation?
Runner-up: “Where They Are, Why They’re Gone: Three 9th grade dropouts," WBEZ-FM/Chicago Public Radio, Linda Lutton, Carlos Javier Ortiz and Sally Eisele
Beautiful and succinct, this year-long series brings listeners inside one Chicago school’s struggle to keep ninth-graders on track to graduate. The story unfolds like a mystery as Lutton searches for clues, tracks down witnesses and finally uncovers the truth about three students who stopped attending classes at Paul Robeson High. It asks, “How many thousands of students stay out of school simply because no one comes looking for them?”
Honorable mention: “Mind the Gap: Why are good schools failing black students?” Independent, Nancy Solomon and Alex Blumberg
“Mind the Gap” carefully investigates a host of potential explanations for racial disparities in student achievement. The strong youth perspective lends an authenticity to a subject that could otherwise get locked in a highly academic debate. The project offers a strong jumping-off point for educators and leaders to discuss an issue that plagues communities across the country.
VIDEO LONG FORM
Winner: “Heart of the City: Detroit’s dropout factories,” BET News, Jason Samuels, Grant Clark and Keith Brown
This unvarnished account of high school dropouts in Detroit goes beyond damning generalizations to hold accountable the players at every level – from students and their parents to teachers and federal officials. The piece exposes problems that can be applied to troubled school districts across the country. The use of personal stories helps explore the complexities, offer solutions and provide cautionary examples of those who followed the dropout path.
Runner-up: “Juvenile Rehabilitation,” ABC News Primetime, Jon Meyersohn, Anna Sims-Phillips, Danielle Baum, Joseph Diaz, Chris Cuomo and David Sloan
This probing look at an alternative juvenile justice approach in Missouri documents troubled youth at some of their most emotional and vulnerable times. The one-year endeavor makes a strong case for the success of the Missouri model. However, it does not shy away from presenting its many setbacks. Ultimately, the captivating stories drive home the message that, despite the crimes they committed, these youth are worth helping.
Honorable mention: “A Hidden America: Children of the mountains,” ABC News 20/20, Claire Weinraub, Keturah Gray, Jessica Velmans, Joseph Diaz, Diane Sawyer and David Sloan
20/20 tells the story of the extreme cycle of poverty that haunts the people of central Appalachia. Sawyer gently coaxes her subjects to share their pain, and the camera expertly captures the details of their lives: the debris, the determination and the defeat. The depiction is truthful, multidimensional and never condescending. It’s journalistic storytelling at its highest level – thoroughly researched and visually compelling.
VIDEO SHORT FORM
Winner (tie): “Back from the Brink: A grandchild comes home,” KING 5 Television (Seattle), Susannah Frame, Kellie Cheadle, Steve Douglas and Mark Ginther
Washington state law is clear: If a parent has been declared unfit to raise a child, relatives must be considered before foster care. So why was Alexis Stuth placed in foster care rather than with the grandparents who had lovingly helped raise her? The KING 5 team laboriously pieces together a slew of evidence, including trails of canceled checks, internal state e-mails and court orders, to expose how the state’s child welfare system made a big mistake. The project not only helped inspire a heartwarming reunion between the Stuths and their granddaughter, but it also led to proposed legislation – the Alexis Stuth Act – which presumes the placement with relatives is in the best interest of the child.
Winner (tie): “Texas Have-Nots,” KRIV FOX 26 (Houston), Greg Groogan, Mark Muller, Carolyn Mungo and Tom Doerr
Three distinct, beautifully shot stories about the challenges faced by children and our misplaced priorities about what deserves public and federal attention. The unique look into the seats of Bus 4203 shows how one school is trying to ensure that its students remain on track amid swelling rates of homelessness. The story on school expenditures exposes blatant violations of the Americans with Disability Act and reveals how a child in a wealthy school district can be among the “have-nots.” A piece on the military’s denial of therapy for autistic children of service members speaks to the complex issues affecting thousands of military families. The videos showcase superb storytelling, footage and editing.
“Homeless Students Rate Increases at Schools”
“Family Upset With District's Expenditures”
“Some Families Deal With War, Autism”
Runner-up: “Is Anybody Listening?” KCET-TV (Los Angeles), Karen Foshay, John Larson, Alberto Arce, Michael Bloecher, Joe Whiting and Bret Marcus
A revealing look into the emotional strains the recession has placed on children. The piece lets the students tell their own stories, and then takes the viewer inside their homes to witness how difficult their lives really are. The donations, awards and attention from President Barack Obama elicited by the project provide a promising response to the question, “Is anybody listening?”
Honorable mention: “Choosing Thomas,” The Dallas Morning News, Sonya N. Hebert, Brad Loper, Ahna Hubnik and Leslie White
It is evident that great time and effort were undertaken not only to earn the trust of a family facing a difficult decision, but also to accompany them through every step of their painful journey. The use of video and still photos masterfully tells the heartbreaking story through the eyes and voice of the courageous parents.
The judges for this year’s awards were: Davar Iran Ardalan, independent civic journalist; former senior supervisory producer, Weekend Edition, National Public Radio; Toren Beasley, vice president, Seaberry Design & Communications; Jody Beck, director, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire Semester in Washington; Jody Becker, independent journalist; Cassandra Clayton, broadcast lecturer, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; John Davidson, adjunct professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, and former photo editor, The Dallas Morning News; Gigi Douban, independent journalist; Robert Farley, staff writer, St. Petersburg Times; Patty Fisher, columnist, San Jose Mercury News; Carol Guensburg, freelance journalist; Lee Hill, producer and blogger, Tell Me More, National Public Radio; Eric Kelderman, staff reporter, government and politics, The Chronicle of Higher Education; Joshua Kors, investigative reporter, The Nation; Beth Macy, journalist, Nieman Fellow, Harvard University; Yolanda McCutchen, instructor of mass communications, Claflin University; Jarrett Murphy, editor-in-chief of print media, City Limits Magazine; Keith O’Brien, freelance writer; Linda Perlstein, public editor, Education Writers Association; Kaari Pitkin, senior producer, WNYC Radio Rookies; Pamela M. Prah, staff writer, Stateline.org, adjunct professor, American University; Matt Sheehan, former assistant news editor, The Washington Post; Carol Smith, senior writer, InvestigateWest; Lindsey Tanner, medical writer, Associated Press; Lynne Varner, editorial writer, The Seattle Times; Jim Walser, senior editor, The Charlotte Observer; Angie Weidinger, reporter, HEC-TV, St. Louis
AMERICA’S PROMISE SECOND ANNUAL JOURNALISM AWARDS
In 2009, America’s Promise Alliance partnered with the Journalism Center on Children & Families to launch its first annual journalism awards for excellence in coverage of youth issues. The America’s Promise Journalism Awards honor those members of the media whose work helped to raise national awareness about the needs of young people and inspire communities nationwide to put the needs of children and youth first.
The Alliance’s distinguished panel of judges selects one award recipient from the Casey Medal winners for each of two categories: Awareness and Action. Awareness entries are judged based on whether the submission provided a fresh take on an existing issue, or highlighted a topic little-known to readers. The Action Award is given to a piece that inspired action on behalf of young people that led directly to community-wide change. Each recipient receives a $5,000 honorarium from the Alliance in addition to receiving the Casey medal. Winners are announced at the awards dinner in October. See last year's winners.