Sept. 17, 1999--An Orange County Register story on children who live in decaying residential motels scattered throughout one of the richest counties in America was awarded first place in the large circulation newspaper category of the 1999 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, which honor distinguished coverage of disadvantaged children and their families. The Register also took first place in photojournalism for the story of “Motel Children.”
Six other first-place awards were made in print and broadcast categories to journalists from The Anchorage Daily News, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y.), Denver Westword, KPNX-TV (Phoenix) and Lichtenstein Creative Media.
The Casey Medals are annual awards, first presented in 1994, by the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families, a national resource center for journalists covering issues affecting at-risk children and their families.
Judges for various divisions of this year’s awards included: Evan Davis, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette; David Hage, editorial writer, The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune; Rachel Jones, Science Desk editor, National Public Radio; Alex Kotlowitz, writer and author, "There Are No Children Here;" Rebecca Lipkin, Senior Producer, ABC World News Tonight; Carin Pratt, Senior Producer, CBS News "Face the Nation," Alicia Shepard, Senior Writer, American Journalism Review; Barbara Vobejda, Staff Writer, The Washington Post; and Gerardine Wurzburg, President, State of the Art, Inc.
Daily Newspapers Over 100,000 Circulation/News or Features
“Motel Children,” The Orange County (Calif.) Register, Laura Saari
The reporter took six months to tell the story of children who live in decaying residential motels scattered throughout one of the richest counties in America, children who are part of the fastest-growing segment of the poor. The story was told movingly in the voices of the children themselves. The judges cited the reporter for “taking a slice of the population – the children of the working poor – and focusing on it using a vehicle that was unique – the motels and the lives of children who reside there. The piece created empathy without being maudlin. It made a strong and lasting impression with details that haunted you as it showed the children who fall between the cracks in this country. There is no feeling of compassion fatigue about this story – the narrative gave the children dignity. It respected them and their circumstances.”
Daily Newspapers 50,000 to 100,000 Circulation/News or Features
“Tale of Two Moms,” The Anchorage (Ala.) Daily News, Lisa Demer
This story of the relationship between a parent, a foster parent, and a child showed the foster care system through their eyes and illuminated policy issues in unexpected ways. The judges said the story showed “the complexities of drug addiction and a mother’s unsteady path to recovery as part of a larger look at the intricacies of foster care. It was an empathetic portrait of two women who the reader came to care about and admire for the way they met challenges in their difficult lives. This absorbing narrative with impressive detail used the relationship between two women as an effective vehicle for telling the larger story. Too often the news media focuses on what’s wrong with foster care or juvenile detention but this story showed an upbeat outcome to a complex problem.”
Daily Newspapers Under 50,000 Circulation/News or Features
“The Day-Care Dilemma: Children In A Working World,” Fairbanks (Ala.) Daily News, Kate Ripley and Marmiam Grimes
This three-part special report resulted from three months of reporting on the problems, and possible solutions facing parents as the demand for child care climbed in Alaska. The judges said the reporting skillfully illustrated “that much of the problem with access to child care in the U.S. is an economic Catch-22 – parents can’t pay enough for child care to enable a child care center to pay what it takes to get and keep good workers. This series educated people to that enormous reality in a way they could understand, with compelling real-life examples. It explored the problem from all sides – parents, the state, owners, workers – and it included solutions.”
Non-Daily Newspapers/News or Features
“Waiting to Exile,” Denver Westword, Tony Perez-Giese
This story chronicled the odyssey of a Vietnamese youth who has lived in the U.S. since he was four-years-old through the immigration detention system after he was convicted and charged as an adult in a restaurant robbery. The judges said the author “has taken a personal tale - that of Loi Nguyen's - to expose the clear injustice of recent laws passed by Congress which leave some resident aliens, like Nguyen, detained indefinitely. While Perez-Giese's reporting is filled with rich, moving detail, his writing is gently understated. He gives Nguyen's story perspective by skillfully weaving in the history of the recent Congressional legislation passed in the wake of an anti-crime and anti-immigration fervor. This is the kind of gutsy, original reporting one wishes we saw more often.”
Editorials/Commentary/Newspapers or Magazines of Any Size
“Domestic Violence/Justice,” The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y.), Laurie Nikolski
This six-week examination of domestic violence and the courts was triggered by the murder of a 19-year-old mother of three by her husband less than a week after she had unsuccessfully sought an emergency order of protection from family court. The judges cited this editorial writer’s “impressive reporting; strong, clear writing; passionate, reasoned advocacy; a large but do-able agenda and results. She was inspired by a particular tragedy but she kept her focus on public policy and public officials. She demonstrated the enterprise, curiosity and persistence of a good investigative reporter, along with the focus and outrage of a strong editorial writer. Together, these create work that stepped beyond routine editorial commentary, named names and proposed reforms, and changed her community for the better.”
“Motel Children,” The Orange County (Calif.) Register, Daniel A. Anderson
Daniel Anderson spent six months documenting the lives of the children who live in decaying residential motels scattered throughout one of the richest counties in America (the story won first place in the over-100,000 circulation newspaper category). The judges said “these compelling photographs captured moments that said it all about the childrens’ lives. There was no feeling of obtruding or staging, but only a clear lens on a complex social problem. It could have been easy to turn this story into a tear-jerker, but the photographer upheld the dignity of the families and helped portray an important, shocking truth.”
“An Unplanned Portrait,” KPNX-TV Phoenix, Carolyn Mungo, Lori Burchett and Nicole Vap
This hour-long documentary which pre-empted “Caroline In the City” in prime time in Phoenix focused on the story of one teenager’s metamorphosis from childhood to motherhood in Arizona, which has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. The judges cited the documentary’s success in capturing “what the reality of life is like for a 14-year-old child who has a child. They spent much time with Angie and her family and that investment showed in powerful ways on the screen. By focusing on one story to illuminate a broader theme, the viewer understands the struggles of the girl’s day-to-day existence. Even more amazing is the fact that they did this with limited resources, following the story of Angie on the side while they carried their usual daily work load.”
“If I Get Out Alive,” Lichtenstein Creative Media, Bill Lichtenstein
This one-hour radio documentary co-produced by Licentenstein Creative Media and Tracey Barry, which aired on public radio stations across the country, focused on cases where juveniles were incarcerated with adults, with context on programs that provide alternatives to prison for young offenders. The judges said the report was “persuasive, compelling and powerful in its ability to cut through stereotypes about treating youths as adult criminals and show how they become victims of the system. This brings to the American public a new lens to view a critical problem that is often not well reported in the news media.”
No first-place awards were made this year in the categories of Magazines, Network Television, or Local Television.
Steve Mills, Louise Kiernan, Gary Marx, George Papajohn, Todd Lighty and Teresa Puente, The Chicago Tribune, for “Killing Our Children: The Search for Justice” (Newspapers Over 100,000); Tamma Adamek, The Stockton Record, for “Changing Face of Welfare” and Christopher Kirkpatrick, The Herald Sun (Durham. N.C.), for “Juvenile Injustice” (Newspapers 50,000-100,000); Steve Varnum, The Concord Monitor, for “Chasing Shadows: Homeless Youth in New Hampshire” (Newspapers under 50,000 circulation); Mary Alice Davis, Austin American-Statesman, for “As Good Times Roll” and Richard Whitmire, USA Today, for “Education Editorial Pieces” (Editorials/Commentary); Susan Goldsmith, New Times Los Angeles, for “The Scarlet Letter” (Non-Daily); Allan Maraynes, Dennis Murphy, Andy Court, Victor Arango, George Liebert, Jonathan Moser, Rayner Ramirez, Evelyn Maturana, Angela Ellis, Ian Wenger, Margarita Martinez, Sean Withers, and Neal Shapiro; Dateline NBC, for “Children of The Harvest” (Network Television); Finnegan Hammill, Belia Myeno Choy, Ellin O’Leary and Neva Grant, NPR-Youth Radio, for “E-Mail from Kosovo.”
First-place winners will be honored at an awards luncheon at the University of Maryland on November 5, 1999. They will receive framed medals and $1,000 awards, and become eligible for $2,000 study/travel grants. The grants fund specific research or reporting projects on issues related to disadvantaged children and families or professional development expenses, such as travel expenses or professional conference fees, to enhance coverage of family issues.
The Casey Medals were awarded by the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families on the basis of depth and originality of subject matter, the extent to which entries truly conveyed a complex and current problem affecting children and families, creativity in presentation, depth of research and documentation, hurdles overcome, and the impact of the journalism on the problem.
Get the JCCF News Summary by email: