SDX 2001 Awards Gallery
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Over 100,000)
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Under 100,000)
Television Reporting: Network/Top 25
Television Reporting: All other markets
Change is a sign of service
By Tony Mauro
Give them what they want, or give them what they need? Editors and reporters may not put it that bluntly as they decide what to publish or broadcast every day, but it is the perennial dilemma of the news media.
The public service category of the annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards is a testament to the fact that our profession hasn’t gone over completely to the pandering side of that quandary. With a remarkable level of commitment, we still pull out all the stops and devote extraordinary column inches and air time to stories that the public needs to know. And the award entries prove that it can be done in ways that make our customers realize that what they need to know is also what they want to know.
The public service awards this year went to stories on subjects ranging from child safety seats in automobiles to school reform to the roots of the hatred that spawned the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The topics varied, but they all share the characteristics of public service journalism: commitment, depth, and undeniable importance.
Another common characteristic of public service reporting is that for the journalist, it can be the most satisfying kind of journalism. In my own career covering the Supreme Court, that satisfaction came with a lengthy examination of the power and influence of the law clerks who help the justices screen cases and write opinions. My March 1998 stories spanned three full pages of USA Today, the most news section pages devoted to a non-breaking story in the newspaper’s history. At the time, the subject of law clerks seemed like dull stuff; Hollywood had not yet glommed onto the combination of youth, brains and power they symbolized. But USA Today decided the story was important enough to run anyway – as a public service.
One part of the story was a first-ever accounting of the racial and gender makeup of the Court’s clerks. The dearth of minority law clerks that my survey revealed struck a chord in the civil rights community. The following October, I found myself on the sidewalk in front of the Court covering a large protest demonstration that had been triggered by my findings. As NAACP president Kweisi Mfume was getting himself arrested over the facts revealed in my stories, I realized the force of public service reporting. It was not a story on a life-or-death subject, but it had impact that is still being felt today.
Mark Millage, a South Dakota news director who won the SDX public service award in 1999 for his station’s coverage of a devastating tornado, put it well: “Public service isn’t an obligation, it’s an opportunity.”
Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times/American Lawyer Media and has covered the Supreme Court for more than 20 years.
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Bonnie Harris and Bill Theobald, The Indianapolis Star, Destined to Die
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The photographs are heartbreaking and the words justify that feeling.
The Indianapolis Star reporters Bonnie Harris and Bill Theobald spent six months researching the situations of Indianapolis pets and the conditions of the local animal shelters.
The duo produced the three-part investigative report, “Destined to Die,” a series of articles, photos and sidebars that detailed the activities of the Humane Society of Indianapolis.
Harris and Theobald’s research revealed alarming statistics and situations involving displaced animals. While nationwide euthanasia rates have dropped in many communities, the rate in Indianapolis is up 12.5 percent from 1994.
“No other newspaper has covered this subject in great depth,” said Star Editor Terry Eberle, “so the reporters had to develop their own reporting models and create their own methods of comparison.”
Harris compared the 22,000 cats and dogs killed last year by the Humane Society and Animal Care and Control shelter to “one animal for every 40 residents.”
The series explores the shelter’s failure in trying to slow the killing, despite being one of the wealthiest charities in the country. Reports also reveal the city’s poor handling of the situation; the city doesn’t know exactly how many animals it euthanizes and, compared to cities such as San Francisco, Indianapolis doesn’t have a low-cost spay and neuter clinic.
Groundbreaking discoveries were made throughout the reporters’ research. The series showed that the city-run animal shelters violated their own laws by not providing bedding in animal pens or adequate veterinary care.
“Destined to Die” includes interviews with former and current employees and volunteers, going into the daily lives of euthanizing animals and disposing of their bodies. Photographs accompany the work, showing barrels full of dead animals and animals being prepped for a shot of sodium pentobarbital. Graphics give a second-by-second account of how the shot works.
The series prompted strong public reaction. Letters to the editor offered advice on where to adopt pets and reiterated the importance of spaying and neutering animals. Editorials encouraged readers to adopt animals and called on the city to fix up the shelters.
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The Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, Mass., Building Bridges
Six miles away, yet worlds apart.
In six miles, Route 28 runs the spectrum from all white neighborhoods in Andover to virtually all Hispanic neighborhoods in Lawrence, with shades of diversity in between in South Lawrence. ...
This passage describes the state highway, also known as Broadway or Main streets (depending on which side of the Merrimack River you live), that runs through the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts and into New Hampshire.
At the south end, there is the wealthy, mostly white district of Andover. About four miles north, you can find the community of Lawrence, where at least 60 percent of residents are Hispanic; many of them are descendents of Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The Eagle-Tribune chronicled the significance of Route 28 as part of a 10-part special report that began in their July 1 Sunday edition. The series continued for nine successive Fridays through the end of August. It dealt with the relations between local Latinos and white non-Hispanics in the area.
“I think people from Andover and North Andover don’t come to Lawrence because they’re ignorant,” said Victor Guzman, a Latino who works at Lucent Technologies in North Andover. “They are afraid of Hispanics, and they also resent the fact that we all moved here and are now the majority in the city,” he said.
With each installment, the special report breaks down issues such as immigrant working conditions, the generational history of immigrants, the language barrier, culture, the strengths and repercussions to the economy, politics, children, migration to the suburbs as well as the future.
A “News & Views” section presented new information and opinions from citizens of the community each of the first three Sundays in July. One Latino’s point of view:
The problem is that many Anglos generalize: There are a lot of Hispanics in the city, and the crime here tends to be blamed on us. Whites think that if there is a problem, especially crime-related, that Hispanics have caused it
The paper ran editorials related to the series throughout July and as a part of the closing installment on Aug. 31. Editor Steve Lambert and Editorial Page Editor Ken Johnson wrote:
They are dirty, lazy, ignorant, intoxicated, amoral and disease-ridden. And they will never become real Americans.
So each generation of “Americans” in Lawrence described the immigrants of their day.
The first group to have such lies said of them was the Irish. Next came the French-Canadians and the Germans, then the Italians and Eastern Europeans. Finally, the Latinos.
The immigrants have changed. But the lies have not.
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, Why They Hate Us
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The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were still fresh in the minds of Americans when they picked up the Oct. 15 issues of Newsweek. Fareed Zakaria sought an answer to why the tragedy happened.
To the question “Why do the terrorists hate us?” Americans could be pardoned for answering, “Why should we care?” The immediate reaction to the murder of 5,000 innocents is anger, not analysis. Yet anger will not be enough to get us through what is sure to be a long struggle. For that we will need answers. The ones we have heard so far have been comforting but familiar. We stand for freedom, and they hate it. We are rich, and they envy us. We are strong, and they resent this. All of which is true. But there are billions of poor and weak and oppressed people around the world. They don’t turn planes into bombs. They don’t blow themselves up to kill thousands of civilians.
“Why They Hate Us” details a hate that reaches far beyond jealousy. Zakaria compares the Middle East anti-American attitude to other Muslim countries. Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh hold none of the rage that the Arabic countries hold.
“Zakaria showed in penetrating historical and analytical detail how these Arab countries have regressed in the past 30 years, becoming increasingly corrupt and repressive, and giving rise to an increasingly virulent strain of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Americanism that the regimes actively encouraged as a diversion from their own shortcomings,” said Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker.
The special report begins with the failed attempts to modernize the Middle East in the 1950s under the influence of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Countries are still suffering from the poorly executed plans with a 25 percent unemployment rate. Zakaria points out, however, that for all the failures in the Middle East, Arabic countries function on “an increasingly high-technology economy.” The article follows the ups and downs that resulted from petroleum sales, a business that has created a new and richer class of people, but hasn’t really helped the countries.
The story lists the rulers of the Middle East and the economic and religious influences, but it focuses on the lives of people in Arab countries – professors, feminists and prospective mujaheds, members of the Islamic army.
The special report ends with suggested solutions, such as helping to build Arabic nations that aren’t under Islamic fundamentalism rule and constructing strong business ties, like America did with South Korea and Taiwan during the Cold War.
“Reflecting the urgency of the subject, the article was also prescriptive, spelling out the ways in which America needs to respond to the challenges of the region,” judges said. “This high-impact presentation exemplifies the kind of public service for which magazines are so well-suited.”
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Cyrus Musiker, KQED-FM, San Francisco, Energy Crisis
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It’s hard to believe that the people of California could be compared to cavemen. But that’s what Fresno Bee columnist Jim Steinberg believed they were being asked to become during the state’s energy crisis last summer.
The crisis forced the state government to implement the “20/20 Program” to promote energy conservation. During the summer months of June through September, California’s three biggest utilities offered a 20 percent rebate to businesses and home owners who cut energy use by 20 percent from the same month a year earlier.
“I think they like seeing how little they can get by with,” Steinberg said. “It builds their esteem.”
Steinberg’s thoughts were part of KQED’s three-part series on energy efficiency and consumer conservation that aired on the California Report in February, April and June. Each segment presented steps the energy-conscious could take to conserve.
Governor Gray Davis authorized $800 million in rewards to those who did, and fines for those who didn’t. A business that did not reduce energy used by outdoor lighting could have been faced with a $1,000 fine.
The state of California is now the biggest electrical company in the nation. In an effort to tame energy markets run amuck, the legislature voted in emergency session last week to become a power dealer, authorizing up to $10 billion in long-term contracts over the next decade. But if California is to avoid more blackouts, it will have to do more than simply buy cheaper energy. It will have to conserve as well.
KQED reported that acquiring newer, more efficient appliances or switching from halogen to fluorescent lighting could dramatically decrease costs. There’s even an interview with a family who saved hundreds by turning on their hot tub only on the weekends.
“This series takes the listener through the stages of the California energy crisis,” wrote the judges. “It shows the need for conservation, while explaining how difficult it is to accomplish.”
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ESPN Staff, ESPN, Broken Trust: Coaches and Sexual Abuse
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While interviewing to become the Coordinating Producer of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” prime-time series, Brian Leonard was asked what topics he might like to explore with the show.
“Coaches who sexually abuse their players,” he replied.
The following year, Leonard finally convinced the network that the subject was something that needed to be brought to light. It would be difficult for most to watch – especially those directly affected by it – but not something that could be ignored any longer.
Leonard chose Ted Duvall, a free-lance producer from Virginia, to share in an analysis of this terrifying, yet ongoing, crime. They would survey the entire cycle: from the trust built between coach and player, the coercion, the act itself, breaking the silence, the investigation, the arrest and trial to follow, the healing and (hopefully) the prevention of future acts against others.
“The number of lives ruined by child molestation in this country is truly staggering,” wrote Duvall. “Sex crimes, especially child molestation, are vastly underreported, destroying lives of the guilty and the innocent. These factors and the personal, horrific stories I encountered in my months of working on this made this project the most trying assignment of my career.”
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Chris Koeberl, Nickie Flynn, Dan Stamness and Dennis Decker, KWCH 12 Eyewitness News, Wichita, Kan., Baby On Board
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The state of Kansas is below average in the use of infant safety seats and child booster car seats. In a state-by-state comparison, Kansas ranked near the bottom when it came to the use of these safety devices.
Last year, the governor tried to improve child safety by sponsoring legislation that required parents to use child booster seats in their vehicles. The bill was defeated.
The staff of KWCH 12 Eyewitness News decided to approach the problem a different way - it educated the public about the dangers children face in car accidents when they are not properly secured.
“Baby On Board” looked at the high number of auto accidents in its viewing area. The report pointed out that most of those accidents involve injuries of some kind.
But what grabbed the attention of most viewers was a simulated accident that illustrated exactly what happens when infants or children are involved in a collision. The station purchased two cars for the simulation, and with assistance from the Kansas Highway Patrol, strapped three infant mannequins into the cars – one properly, the other two improperly.
Specially prepared cameras were used inside the cars to record the impact of the collision on the mannequins. When the seats and cameras were all in place, a Highway Patrol officer used his car to push one of the cars into the other.
The collision was at a relatively low speed – only about 25 miles per hour – but the differences were clear. The mannequins that were not strapped in properly received violent jolts from the accident. One of them was nearly knocked out of the seat entirely.
The initial report focused on the use of infant safety seats. But after a strong public response to that piece, the station aired another segment in November that addressed child booster seats.
From the beginning of the project, KWCH partnered with organizations such as Kansas SAFE KIDS Coalition to publicize safety seat checks for parents. The report provided several resources for parents who wanted to learn how to keep their kids safe, and the station’s Web site had links to organizations with online tips for using infant safety seats and child booster car seats.
The report had a strong impact on its community.
“Hundreds of local parents wrote and called to tell us that these series of reports changed the way they now carry their kids in cars,” the station said in its entry letter. “More important, the series prompted the largest series of infant seat checks ever attempted in the state, and more Kansas kids are hopefully now safer.”
The legislation that failed last year has been resubmitted, and committees considering safety laws have asked for copies of the report.
“True public service was at the heart of the reporting here,” said judges. “They did this because the station felt compelled to help. We were impressed by this sense that the station felt they had a calling to do something good first and did not appear to base their decision on purely journalistic reasons.”
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Dan Weissman, Liz Duffrin, Maureen Kelleher, Mick Dumke, Sarah Karp and Brian Rogal, CATALYST and The Chicago Reader, Education Matters
Tightly-focused publications, such as The Chicago Reporter and CATALYST: Voices of Chicago School Reform, are often better suited at in-depth analysis of tough topics in the name of public service than their more broad-based media siblings. So when these two particular newsletter publications collaborated to produce a series of in-depth stories that brought the specialty of each – education for CATALYST, and race and poverty for the Reporter – to bear on currently prominent issues, the result was potent reporting.
“The ‘Chicago Matters: Education Matters’ series demonstrates a commitment to probing the challenges facing public schools in underprivileged neighborhoods,” said judges. “Reporters combined data analysis and strong collaborative reporting to uncover stories about children uprooted by public housing redevelopment, grade-school dropouts, and inner-city valedictorians struggling to make it in college.”
In “CHA’s commuter kids,” reporters Dan Weissmann and Brian Rogal reported the effects of the Chicago Housing Authority’s sweeping demolition of public housing on education:
Adjusting to new schools or traveling long distances to attend their old neighborhood schools are two of the consequences facing children who move out of public housing ....
Reporters found that most of the students who transferred lacked better education alternatives and now attend schools just as racially and economically isolated as the ones they left. And the non-transfers were forced to endure long commutes with no formal transportation assistance after one academic year.
The second report, “Chicago Valedictorians Struggle to Stay Competitive,” reported that most Chicago pubic school valedictorians might not qualify for colleges rated “very difficult.” The newsletters also examined possible solutions in “Using AP, IB to change schools,” highlighting successful Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs already in place around the city.
Another group of teens – those who don’t even make it to high school – were covered in “Grade school dropouts with nowhere to go” by Elizabeth Duffrin and “Thousands of Troubled Students Drop Out Before High School” by Mick Dumke. The writers analyzed school data and found that every year, at least 1,500 students, most of them black, leave the city’s public schools from 6th, 7th and 8th grades.
Before the CATALYST/Reporter analysis, the phenomenon of grade school dropouts was barely recognized; the school system does not even have a way to count them accurately. “They’re the silent dropouts that no one really talks about,” said one educator who is trying to get state legislators to fund programs for this neglected group.
“The series is remarkably targeted to its readership and is distinguished by its completeness,” said judges. “Each segment combines hard-nosed reporting, storytelling, and graphics to paint the larger picture. The entry is truly a superb example of the public service role of journalism. This series brings to light important subjects that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.”
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Staff of HoustonChronicle.com, Houston Chronicle, Great Flood of 2001
“Weather is one of those stories where newspapers have a hard time competing with television,” said Jack Loftis, associate publisher and editor of the Houston Chronicle. “The story is visual and constantly changing. By the time the paper is off the press, the sun is out – or the storm has taken a turn for the worse. With its coverage of Tropical Storm Allison, the Houston Chronicle showed how the newspaper and the Web can work together to provide comprehensive coverage of a breaking story, merging the depth and breadth of the newspaper’s reporting with the timeliness and multimedia capabilities of the Web.”
HoustonChronicle.com offered an array of links, video and public forums. Combining efforts with KHOU Channel 11, the Chronicle provided footage of rescues and evacuations. KHOU, the Chronicle and the Red Cross also put together a donations drive on the site; money and other contributions went to help flood victims.
Day-by-day reports are offered on the site, detailing changes in the situation and updates on victims and damage.
“As the flooding grew, on their own initiative, nearly the entire online staff waded into the Web site – many from home, some literally through the floodwaters that surrounded the Chronicle building,” Loftis said. “Stories were updated continuously as the staff worked with the newsroom nearly around the clock to keep readers abreast of the latest advance of the flood and its impact.”
To keep readers up to date, the coverage also offered the most recent information on cancellations and closings of schools, public buildings and events. Readers also had access to information on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offered in both English and Spanish.
The disaster downed phone lines and prevented regular distribution of the Chronicle. Staff members were forced into a new sort of teamwork with a new type of media.
“This Web site makes exemplary use of tools that the Internet makes available for multimedia storytelling,” judges said. “Well-organized, well-written coverage of a major story affecting the community.”
Loftis said the package set a new standard for use of the paper’s Web site in reporting complex stories.
“We cover breaking news on the site every day,” Loftis said, “but no story more than Tropical Storm Allison showed how newspaper reporters and editors – now multimedia journalists – can serve their readers by leveraging the strengths of both media.”
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Kenneth Vogel and Meleah Rush, The Center for Public Integrity, Watchdogs on Short Leashes
For years, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has analyzed and reported on the actions and activities of state legislators. And after previous reports on conflicts of interest and personal gain by lawmakers, CPI decided last year to examine the relationships between state legislatures and the agencies established to supervise their ethical conduct.
What they found was a web of laws so varied and complex that there was no way to equally compare state oversight systems.
In December 2001, after a year and a half of research and writing, CPI released “Watchdogs on Short Leashes.” Their research revealed that legislators in more than half of the U.S. states have no outside oversight of their ethical conduct.
“CPI has created an impressive Web site to allow citizens to evaluate how state legislatures are (or are not) being monitored for ethical behavior,” judges wrote. “Writers have assembled an enormous amount of information in a clear and concise manner. Readers also have access to survey tools and methodology to evaluate the work.”
Writer Meleah Rush said the detail work of the project was intense and time-consuming, but perseverance paid off and the response from reporters has been positive.
Project writer Kenneth Vogel said, “Getting the Sigma Delta Chi Award is invigorating because it lets me know that, yes, people are paying attention and they do recognize hard work, even when it focuses on a topic that is better described as ‘important’ rather than ‘exciting.’”