A Washington Post series on the human consequences of welfare reform and an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette investigation of the state’s juvenile justice system tied for first place in the large circulation newspaper category of the 1998 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, which honor distinguished coverage of disadvantaged children and their families.
Seven other first-place awards were made in print and broadcast categories to journalists from The San Jose Mercury News, The Oakland Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News (Stuart, Fla.), New Times Los Angeles, Nomadic Pictures and KTVU Channel 2 News (Oakland, Ca.).
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: Leon Dash, former staff writer, The Washington Post, and currently professor of journalism at the University of Illinois; Sara Engram, State Editor, The Baltimore Sun; Peggy Girshman, Deputy Senior National Editor, National Public Radio, Diane Granat, Metropolitan Editor, The Washingtonian, Deborah Potter, Director, The News Lab; Maria Henson, Associate Editor, The Charlotte Observer, Rebecca Lipkin, Producer, ABC World News Tonight, Sara Rimer, Boston Bureau Chief, The New York Times, Stephen Shames, photographer, and Susan Sheehan, Staff Writer, The New Yorker.
Daily Newspapers Over 100,000 Circulation/News or Features:
“Inside Welfare’s New World,” The Washington Post, Katherine Boo
The reporter movingly documented the impact of the new welfare law on families living in public housing barely a mile from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The judges said they were “awed by the humanity of the reporting, which got close to people without violating them. There was never a cheap detail. She got behind the numbers to make the impact of welfare reform so human. The writing was extraordinary, while always providing context. This is a real model for journalists, fair and objective, but conveying the feeling of the reality of the system.”
“Juvenile Justice: The War Within,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Mary Hargrove
The reporter’s year-long investigation of the state’s juvenile justice system revealed widespread physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by children, and resulted in many reforms. The judges said the reporter’s “tenacity and willingness to look into a horrible juvenile prison system is first-rate journalism. She overcame many obstacles and showed impressive doggedness. It paid off as she got behind the scenes in a system which used confidentiality to protect not the children but itself.”
Daily Newspapers 50,000 to 100,000 Circulation/News or Features
“Welfare at a Crossroads,” The Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, Jeff Israely and Karen de Sa
Two reporters and an editor spent six months exploring the impact of the welfare overhaul on families in the Bay area. The judges praised “the breadth of the undertaking, and the variety of material covered, from potential impacts on immigrants to fathers, and the commitment they made in the reporting and presentation of this critical issue. We were impressed with the way the reporting framed for the public the range of difficulty inherent in reforming welfare.”
Daily Newspapers Under 50,000 Circulation/News or Features
“Our Children – Their Cancer,” The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News (Stuart, Fla.), Debi Pelletier
A routine neighborhood conversation led a reporter and her newspaper to the discovery of mysterious cancers striking young children at an alarming rate in and around their community. The judges said “the dogged reporting over a long period of time was an extraordinary commitment to good journalism. Since the reporter’s first stories, the newspaper involved more than half of its 54 editorial staffers in the story. It was a real public service and took guts to pursue.”
Non-Daily Newspapers/News or Features
“The Color of Love,” New Times Los Angeles, Susan Goldsmith
The story examines the debate over what role race should play in adoption and foster care placements of minority children through the powerful tale of a white couple’s efforts to adopt two biracial children. The judges said the reporter did a “good job of combining narrative and issues. It brought in a national perspective, but also gave a good view of the inner workings of the hard-to-penetrate child welfare system with particularly vivid court scenes.”
Editorials/Commentary/Newspapers or Magazines of Any Size
“Making Welfare Work,” San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, Patty Fisher, Joanne Jacobs and Joe Rodriguez
This ongoing effort documented the lives of six families trying to get off welfare as a way of exploring public policy issues facing the state legislature. The judges said the series “illuminated in intimate detail the path that welfare families face in becoming self sufficient. It turned stereotypes into flesh and blood people. The series issued challenges to legislators, Congress, cities and community organizations to acknowledge that welfare is not government’s problem alone. By portraying the issue in all its complexity, the work illuminated how the responsibilities of helping families move from welfare to work are shared throughout society. Good writing and the effective use of profiles and updates added to the package.”
A special award was made in this category this year recognizing the impact of both the photography and the text of this entry by awarding a joint photography/writing award:
“Children of the Underground,” Block News Alliance, Allan Detrich and Mackenzie Carpenter
Photographer Allan Detrich began following the story of an underground network of “safe houses” to help mothers and their children go into hiding to protect them from sexual abuse. He later began working with reporter MacKenzie Carpenter on an 18-month project which was published in a week-long series in both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Blade of Toledo. The judges praised both its “photographic skills and its journalism and research. It is a complex story with an astounding scope. The text was vitally important to this story. We need to know the background and what people say. The pictures alone cannot tell everything, but they are key. They take us through the complex issues and make them accessible by showing us how people are coping. The case-by-case approach works because it gives us a chance to judge for ourselves, while getting a feel for the policy issues. “
“Candy Kids,” KTVU Channel 2 News (Oakland, Calif.), Leslie Griffith and Roland De Wolk
The story explored the exploitation of children, usually minorities, who are used by adults in violation of state labor laws to sell candy for little profit except to the adults. The judges said it was a “provocative report on a subject rarely examined. It showed true enterprise and initiative and followed up with additional reporting. It provided the children’s perspective looking at a story that affects minority children not only in this community but elsewhere.”
“Time to Speak,” Nomadic Pictures, Ltd., Tod S. Lending
This third and final series of the PBS documentary series entitled “No Time To Be a Child” focused on the impact on children and youth of violence in the home. The judges cited the documentary’s “strong subject matter. It provides many points of view about one compelling issue. The focus on the children is extremely difficult to do and is rarely done as a result. Extraordinary characters and strong story-telling showed the complexity and the ambiguity of the problem.”
No first-place awards were made this year in the categories of Magazines, Network Television, or Radio.
Honorable mentions were awarded to: Dale Russakoff, The Washington Post, for “ When The Bough Breaks” and Tracey Weber, The Los Angeles Times, for “Child Welfare: Drugging Children, Twice Abused” (Newspapers Over 100,000); Lisa Friedman, The Bakersfield Californian, for “Within Arm’s Reach” (Newspapers 50,000-100,000); Mary Beth Pfeiffer, The Poughkeepsie Journal, for “Ready or Not: Teens at the Wheel” and Steve Varnum, The Concord Monitor, for “No Place Like Home: Life of a Foster Child,” (Newspapers under 50,000 circulation); Victoria Pope, US News & World Report, for “Day-Care Dangers” (Magazines); Steve Jackson, Westword, for “Live Fast, Die Young” (Non-Daily); Henry B. Bryan, Philadelphia Inquirer, for “A Chance for Children” (Editorials/Commentary); Patrick Davison, Rocky Mountain News, for “Undying Love” and David Eulitt, The Topeka Capital-Journal, for “A Grandma’s Love,” (Photojournalism); Carolyn Mungo and Jim Manley, KPNX TV, Phoenix, for “The Littlest Suspects” (Local Television).
First-place winners will be honored at an awards luncheon at the University of Maryland on October 16, 1998. 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.
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