2006 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism
CJC Recognizes Journalists in 12th Annual Contest
The Rocky Mountain News’s penetrating examination of dropouts; Mother Jones’ thorough investigation of the overmedication of children in state-run institutions; the Kindling Group’s longform portrait of a woman assisting pregnant teens; and The Commercial Appeals’ revealing stories and photographs about Memphis’ hidden crisis in infant deaths were among the winning stories in the 2006 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism contest.
Other media organizations winning top honors in the 12th annual contest were The Seattle Times, WUNC-FM (Chapel Hill, N.C.); The Chicago Tribune; Phoenix New Times; WISH TV, (Indianapolis); The Arkansas Democrat Gazette; The Journal Times (Racine, Wis.); and Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. Winners will receive a Casey Medal and a $1,000 award at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 7, 2006.
More than 560 journalists entered this year’s contest. Judges looked for masterfully reported compelling stories that cut through “compassion fatigue”; socially significant topics; demonstration of enterprise and thorough research; and evidence of story impact. Judges awarded prizes in 13 of the 14 categories; no prize was given for online journalism. The deadline for the next contest (for work published or aired in 2006) is March 1, 2007.
Judges for this Casey Medals were: Jeanie Adams-Smith, assistant professor of photojournalism, Western Kentucky University; Tom Baden, executive editor, The Salt Lake Tribune; Jenni Bergal, senior writer, The Center for Public Integrity; Katherine Boo, staff writer, The New Yorker; Maria Carrillo, managing editor, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot; Andrew Court, producer, “60 Minutes”; Carol Guensburg, freelance journalist, Arlington, Va., Thomas Huang, features editor, The Dallas Morning News; Carl Juste, photojournalist, The Miami Herald; Jim Kenyon, news columnist, The Valley News (West Lebanon, N.H.) ; Jack Kresnak, juvenile justice reporter, Detroit Free Press; Pam Kruger, freelance journalist and contributing editor at Child magazine, Millburn, N.J.; Ruth Marcus, editorial writer and columnist, The Washington Post; Julia McEvoy, senior desk editor, Chicago Public Radio; Michele McLellan, director, Tomorrow’s Workforce; Angie Moreschi, freelance journalist and media consultant, Lutz, Fla.; Damaso Reyes, freelance photojournalist, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Joe Richman, executive producer, “Radio Diaries”; Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president, American Journalism Review; Fred Ritchin, director, PixelPress; Robert Rivard, editor, San Antonio Express-News; J. Michael Shanahan, assisting visiting professor of journalism, The George Washington University; Cheryl Smith, executive editor/talk show host, Dallas Weekly/KKDA-AM; Reginald Stuart, journalist and corporate recruiter, Knight Ridder; Al Tompkins, broadcast and online group leader; The Poynter Institute; Cathy Trost, freelance journalist, Chevy Chase, Md.
2006 Casey Medals and Judges’ Comments
Winner: Burt Hubbard, Nancy Mitchell, Holly Yettick and Jennifer Miller, Rocky Mountain News(Denver), “Early Exit: Denver’s Graduation Gap”
This enlightening, comprehensive package may be the most precise and nuanced statistical portrait of dropouts that has yet been done in a big-city school system. The News has constructed an evaluation model that could be used by urban-school reformers who want to confront and improve their record of holding onto at-risk kids. The articles effectively illuminate some of the economic and cultural factors buffeting individual choices, while continually emphasizing what is at stake: the future of flawed, complex, promising kids. A genuine public service.
Runner-up: Jonathan Rockoff and John B. O’Donnell, The Baltimore Sun, “Maryland’s Troubled Group Homes”
This investigation of group homes was thoroughly reported, clearly written and cause for outrage. It also spurred reforms and set the stage for better protection of vulnerable young people.
Honorable mention: Liz Bowie and Andre Chung (photographer), The Baltimore Sun, “On Their Own”
Remarkable, sometimes mesmerizing, storytelling of two young homeless men. Demonstrated sensitivity toward and insight about its subjects, while avoiding sentimentality.
Winner: Aimee Edmondson, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), “Born to Die”
“Born to Die” is classic journalism. The newspaper identified a local problem of national importance: Memphis was home to the worst infant mortality rate in the nation, and many of those babies who were dying were babies of color. The reporting was terrific, powered by sharp details; the writing was spare and direct. The writer got at the root causes, found a creative way to bring it home not only to Memphis, but to a specific community and made it very hard to put the story down. A tremendous accomplishment considering the subject of infant mortality has been tackled many times before.
Runner-up: Lee Williams and Adam Taylor, The News Journal (Wilmington, Del.) “Deadly Streets”
A deeply reported portrait of a neighborhood under siege by violent drug dealers and police resistance to new enforcement techniques that has resulted in greater community involvement, greater state and government resources and changed in the way local police fight drug traffickers.
Honorable mentions (two):
Scott Reeder, Small Newspaper Group (Springfield, Ill.), “The Hidden Costs of Tenure”
The reporter’s massive review of records revealed that poor teachers with tenure are largely out of reach for discipline or termination. As a result, Illinois legislators and school officials are promising reform.
Beth Macy, The Roanoke (Va.) Times, “An Unlikely Refuge”
An engaging, well-written story of African refugees who fled genocide to start new lives in a very foreign land that took real reporting skill. It would have been easy for the newspaper to let the newcomers slip into oblivion after their arrival. Instead they humanized them and gave the community reason to embrace them.
Under 75,000 circulation
Winner: Kevin Abourezk and Colleen Kenney, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, “Standing at the Crossroads”
Deep, powerful reporting and writing about the ravages of alcohol at the Pine Ridge reservation and how the disease has been tearing apart the Lakota tribe. The reporters placed a lot of their attention on the young generation struggling to succeed. This series could have devolved into stereotypes, but the reporters always treated the reservation residents with dignity, and approached them as vulnerable human beings.
Runner-up: Stacy Teicher, Teresa Méndez and Amanda Paulson, The Christian Science Monitor, "Don't Forget Us: Students on the Margins"
This series about students on the margins -- students who are homeless, or whose families are migrant workers, or who live in foster care -- is pure testimony that it’s worth spending the resources to really tell the story of invisible children, and to tell it well.
No honorable mention
Winner: Jonathan Martin, The Seattle Times, "What's Best for Baby M?"
An unsparing, searing account of a single child custody case that illustrates the tenuous nature of life in the underclass, and the obstacles confronting both parents and those charged with ensuring child welfare. The sustained nature of the two-year reporting focus was the key to the drama of the story; the reporter didn't know whether he would be telling a story of tragedy or triumph, but simply showed the unraveling of the couple's hopes to be reunited with their child. It broke new ground in reporting on society’s need to protect the rights of the children while honoring the traditional rights of birth parents to rear their kids.
Runner-up: Kevin Merida, The Washington Post, "A Jacket to Die For?”
A fascinating inside look at a culture where a North Face jacket can become the center of a death struggle. Excellent reporting allows the writer to deliver a vivid picture of this world.
Honorable mention: Mark Waller, The Times-Picayune, "Learning Together"
An up-close look at the advantages and stresses of mainstreaming disabled students. A smoothly flowing narrative captured in exquisite detail the inevitable conflicts that occur.
Winner: Amy Upshaw, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Teen Cried for Help, Got Little”
A shining example of how a tenacious reporter can make a significant difference in her community -- and her state. Upshaw recognized a good story when she started working on a standard follow-up to a brief about a girl's death. Through dogged reporting she ultimately discovered that problems at a youth services center most likely contributed to the neglect of Keisha Brown, who died after complaining of health problems. Impressive impact on the state legislature and agencies.
Runner-up: Claudia Rowe, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Judgment Calls: When to remove a child?"
Rowe took a subject prone to compassion fatigue -- the problems that overburdened child protection workers face -- and crafted a highly readable story. The story finds its power not through numbers or policy arguments, but through specific, detailed, complicated family cases. We see the clients as flawed human beings, and we see the difficult decisions that social workers have to make.
Honorable mention: Hilary Waldman, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, “A Second Chance as Mom"
This is a strong narrative showing us what it's like to be a single mom who is trying to keep her nine kids despite a history of drug addiction. It's reminiscent of Leon Dash's monumental series on Rosa Lee Cunningham.
Under 75,000 circulation
Winner: Janine Anderson and Scott Anderson (photographer), Journal Times (Racine, Wis.), "Grand Parenting"
The ups and downs of becoming a “parent” for the second time come through loud and clear in this story. There is a lot to this story. It's personal and gets deeply into the life of the main character. It also thoroughly documents the scope of the phenomenon of grandparents raising kids, offering resources for those who want help. And the writer lets grandma Bonnie Wozniak show readers what it’s like raising two young girls in today’s Britney Spears culture.
Runner-up: Lindsay Tice, Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine), "Stepping into a New Life"
This well-crafted and well-reported story of a 14-year-old girl facing kidney failure shows how to elevate such a subject beyond the sob-story genre.
Honorable mention: Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel, "Amazing Journey: How a teacher and $1,000 changed Maria Rodriguez’s life”
A deft combination of both reporting and writing. The reporter didn’t just tell readers why the college-bound program is worthwhile, she showed them.
Winner: Cornelia Grumman, Chicago Tribune, “Juvenile Injustice”
In a society where newspapers (and the people who write and edit them) are supposedly becoming more irrelevant, this series shows why there is still no substitute for pointed, well-written journalism. The editorials pierced the reality of inexcusable conditions inside the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, with enterprising shoe-leather reporting; powerfully written and argued.
Runner-up: RiShawn Biddle and Tim Swarens, Indianapolis Star, “Left Behind”
The series on misleading dropout data peddled by Indianapolis Public Schools represents a sterling example of accountability journalism, well written and beautifully packaged, with real voices and graphics that added to the powerful impact of the editorials themselves.
Honorable mention: Steve Duin, The Oregonian, “Randy Guzek 20 Years Later”
A harrowing saga of crime and punishment, meticulously reported and compellingly written.
Winner: Rob Waters, Mother Jones, “Medicating Aliah”
Waters' diligent reporting and clear explanatory prose take the reader through a series of little-known worlds, where concerns about overmedication and pharmaceutical-company influence are silenced. Waters demonstrates the huge public cost of biased medication selection in state facilities, but the human cost is what lingers: sick children routinely subjected to off-label polypharmacy that bears no relation to their clinical diagnoses, and for which there is no evidence of efficacy. Illuminating and alarming, the article documents how the pharmaceutical industry is methodically gaining influence over the state officials who decide which drugs are used at state-funded and run institutions.
Runner-up: Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, Milwaukee Magazine, "The Lesson: A Tale of Two Schools"
Nohl’s story is brilliantly conceived, passionately reported, and undergirded by a wealth of current educational research. She relies on ambition, originality and optimism in framing and reporting this important story.
Honorable mentions (two):
Nadya Labi, Legal Affairs, “The Gentle People”
Labi’s harrowing subject matter is honored by the elegant, understated telling -- a stylistic discipline that almost masks the staggering difficulty of her investigative reporting. An extraordinary piece of journalism.
Reshma Memon Yaqub (freelance), The Washington Post, “The Choice: Hard Labor”
A gripping, heart-wrenching story. It takes us beyond the rhetoric and policy debates, and shows us the private horror so many couples face when they find out they’re carrying a child with fetal abnormalities. The story avoids taking sides and deepens our understanding of the pro-life/pro-choice debate.
Winner: John Dougherty, Phoenix New Times, “Polygamy in Arizona”
The paper’s commitment to covering -- and uncovering -- the story of how a sect of fundamentalist Mormon polygamists took over a town didn’t just make for compelling reading, it was important work, revealing shockingly widespread sexual abuse, pedophilia and misuse of public funds that had gone on for years. This body of work shows lots of shoe-leather and determination. Authorities looked the other way and probably would have continued to do so, had it not been for the Phoenix Times’ comprehensive, persistent, and passionate coverage. It was a tough story to get and The New Times should be applauded for stepping in where authorities failed to go.
Runner Up: N/A
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Kaminsky, East Bay Express (Emeryville, Calif.), “Wounded Warriors”
An insightful, unflinching look at a football team in a tough, inner city high school, the story shed light on the challenges the players and the coaches face and captured the difficulty of giving hope to teenagers who need it. Football offered a lens into life in a bleak neighborhood.
Winner: Karen Pulfer Focht, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), “Born to Die”
Pulfer Focht’s work on infant mortality and premature babies dissected this important issue in a visually intimate way. By spending a great deal of time with her subjects she was able to create intimate and beautiful portraits of pain and hope. Her images helped bring attention to how young, African-American mothers were being affected by a trend that few people in or out of government fully understood. By raising awareness she prompted local and state government to act when they had previously failed to even recognize that a problem existed. This is the highest form of photojournalism: images that prick the conscious and encourage action.
Mike Siegel and Thomas Hurst, The Seattle Times, “What’s Best for Baby M?”
Andy Cross, The Denver Post, “Letting Go”
Honorable mentions (two):
Damon Winter, Los Angeles Times, “Missionary's Dark Legacy”
A well executed visual project.
Mediha DiMartino, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, "Born Behind Bars”
Television: Short Form
Winner: Mary McDermott and Ron Nakasone, WISH-TV (Indianapolis), “10,000 a Month”
McDermott and Nakasone’s four-part series on the Indiana foster care system begins with a harrowing scene: Police and caseworkers have come to the home of woman who has tested positive for drug abuse. In the dark of the night, they carry the woman’s child away. The harrowing part is not just the removal, it’s the underlying reality: A shortage of foster care homes means the caseworkers are not sure where this child will end up. The series illuminates a serious problem plaguing cities around the country and points to solutions. WISH took on a story few stations would attempt, given the difficulties of dealing with the juvenile justice system, with parents accused of neglect and with the foster care system.
Runner-up: Sharona Schwartz, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Michael Simon, Drew Levinson and Ryan Butler, CNN, “Sabrina’s Law”
This was a powerful, well-told and well-produced story. It makes people care about an issue that they may not realize they should care about. And it makes the viewer realize just how important it is for all parents to understand food allergies, even if their own child does not suffer from them. This story breaks through, grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
Honorable mention: N/A
Television: Long Form
Winner: Daniel Alpert, Susanne Suffredin, Dana Kupper and Ines Sommer, The Kindling Group, “A Doula Story”
With compassion, clarity, and a keen eye for detail, Daniel Alpert and the Kindling Group portray the efforts of Loretha Weisinger, a doula, to educate and empower teen mothers on Chicago’s west side. Weisinger promises her young charges that “You will not be alone,” and over the course of the program we observe how seriously she takes that commitment and we see the toll it takes on her. Weisinger’s daily rounds become a prism through which we come to understand teen pregnancy and a lot more. One wonders: what would our society would be like if there were enough Loretha Weisingers to go around? Impossible to forget hours after watching it -- the mark of a great tale. A Doula Story has aired on over 60 PBS affiliates. The Kindling Group produces films that explore social and historical issues and create outreach and educational campaigns.
Runner-up: Roger Weisberg and Vanessa Roth, Public Policy Productions, “Aging Out”
The documentary focuses on one of the foster care system’s most challenging problems: What to do about the perennially institutionalized and moved-around kids who are suddenly old enough to live on their own but may not be ready to do so? “Aging Out,” which aired on PBS, chronicles the trials and tribulations of three young people struggling to make it on their own. It conveys the tension that exists even under the best of circumstances – the tug-of-war between the young people’s desire for independence and their need for ongoing support. The stories are masterfully told and give incredible insight into the struggles of children growing up in the system. The untidiness of their situations force the viewer to think deeply beyond surface judgments about what obligations all of us have to kids caught in the system of social welfare. Public Policy Productions produces documentaries on a range of social issues, all of which have aired on PBS.
Honorable mention: Angela Shelley and Omega Hsu, “Kids for Real” series, California Connected (a collaboration of KCET-Los Angeles, KPBS-San Diego, KQED-San Francisco and KVIE-Sacramento)
The series is a riveting look at the timely and important issues facing many immigrants in America, such as language barriers, lack of health insurance, poverty and hunger.
Winner: Executive producer: Emily Hanford; Producers: Paul Cuadros, Dawn Dreyer, Leda Hartman, Leoneda Inge, Rusty Jacobs, Michelle Johnson, Alison Jones, Jessica Jones, Susan Leffler, Laura Leslie, Amy Nelson, Paul Overton, James Todd; Editors: Sharon Ball, John Biewen, Cheryl Devall, Neenah Ellis, Deborah George, Maria Martin, Marcus Rosenbaum and Ben Shapiro; North Carolina Public Radio/WUNC-FM, “North Carolina Voices: Understanding Poverty.”
This superbly reported and edited series brings listeners into the lives of people living on the edge of economic security and illuminates their daily struggles. The range of stories provides a profound understanding of the issues facing people living at or below the poverty level. And 150 listener e-mails for this local station is nothing to sneeze at -- and since audio segments will be used by local teachers, the series’ impact continues to reverberate within the community.
Honorable mentions (two):
Beth Fertig and John Keefe, WNYC-FM, “Neediest Students Crowd Worst Schools”
Tough, enterprising report by WNYC on an under-reported problem plaguing many big city school systems: short-changing services for special-ed students.
Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister, Long Haul Productions, “Dear Birth Mother”
An expertly produced glimpse into the arduous and emotional journey one woman undertakes to adopt a child. Suzanne's intimate and candid narration of her adoption keeps listeners hanging on her every word.
No winner or runner-up
Honorable mention: Bob Sullivan, MSNBC on the Internet, "Children and Online Safety."Excellent enterprise reporting on the risks children face online. Honorable mention: Emily Hanford, Sarah Field Gronewold and Billy Barnes, WUNC-FM (North Carolina), North Carolina Voices: Understanding Poverty. A worthy project that raises important questions about who is poor, why are they poor and how have things changed over time.