SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 31, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- McClatchy (NYSE: MNI) today announced 11 President's Awards for journalists who uncovered corruption in local government, held leaders and institutions accountable and told human stories in compelling and original ways.
Reporters Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk of the Belleville News-Democrat won for the second straight year – this time for a series of stories that led to the conviction of one East St. Louis Township city official and criminal charges against a number of others. Hundsdorfer and Pawlaczyk won last year for stories on local law enforcement's failure to prosecute sexual assault cases.
The staff of The Charlotte Observer was honored for its extraordinary breaking news reporting on a police shooting that sparked days and nights of protests in Charlotte. The Observer team used every platform available to the modern journalist – including video and social media – to keep the community and the country informed as the news unfolded.
Reporter Wesley Muller and photographer John Fitzhugh of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., won for "Fostering Secrets," a series of powerful stories that shined a light on a government agency that took children from their families based on falsified records and exaggerated claims.
The Miami Herald, McClatchy's Washington Bureau and McClatchy's Video Lab were honored for their work on the Panama Papers, a joint project with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations.
The McClatchy President's Awards, now in their 17th year, recognize the best work of 2016 by the company's 30 newsrooms, with particular emphasis on digital accomplishments, innovation and exemplary reporting, writing, photography and videography.
"The President's Awards confirm what I see every day: That across the country, McClatchy journalists are producing compelling and essential work that makes our communities better," said Craig Forman, McClatchy's president and CEO. "It's never an easy time to be a journalist -- these days especially -- but the reporting honored by these awards is an excellent reminder that our work is more important than ever before."
Judging this year's competition were Richard Just, former editor of Newsweek, The New Republic and National Journal and soon-to-be editor of The Washington Post's Sunday magazine; Kristin Roberts, executive editor of McClatchy Washington and a veteran of Politico, National Journal and Reuters; and Tim Grieve, McClatchy's vice president for news.
Here is a complete list of this year's President's Award winners, together with comments from the three judges:
East St. Louis Township Public Corruption
Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk, reporters
Through what the judges called "dogged" and "impressive" reporting, Hundsdorfer and Pawlaczyk uncovered that an East St. Louis Township supervisor had misused thousands of dollars in government money meant to help the poor. Federal law enforcement officials used the reporters' work as a roadmap for their own investigation – and for the criminal charges that followed.
(Biloxi) Sun Herald
Wesley Muller, reporter, and John Fitzhugh, photographer
Muller started asking questions when he heard that the county he covers has Mississippi's highest percentage of children in foster care. The answers he found were alarming: evidence that children had been taken from their families based on forged or falsified records and unsubstantiated claims of child abuse. Muller and Fitzhugh presented their work in a six-part multi-media report that included what the judges called the "wrenching personal tales of the mothers and fathers whose children were taken." State lawmakers responded immediately to Muller and Fitzhugh's work with a flurry of bills meant to prevent further incidents.
The Charlotte Observer
Keith Lamont Scott shooting and protests
The protests following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott offered every challenge a newsroom can face: fast-moving news, dangerous and chaotic conditions, and a police department reluctant to release body-cam videos that documented the events leading up to the shooting. The Observer's staff met the challenge – covering the breaking news via Twitter, video and its own stories and organizing a coalition of media organizations to push for the release of police videos. "It's hard to imagine a newsroom covering a crisis in its city any better than The Charlotte Observer team did," the judges said.
The (Hilton Head) Island Packet
"Propping up Paradise"
The Island Packet unveiled a looming crisis for Hilton Head: The local tourist industry's difficulty finding workers was threatening the quality of life on the island and its reputation as a world-class destination. Through words, pictures and video, The Island Packet team documented the reasons for the staff shortage – including low pay and the high cost of local housing – and told the remarkable stories of people who commute by bus several hours each way to clean hotel rooms, landscape resort grounds and scrub pots in restaurant kitchens. The judges cited "excellent" writing that told "moving" stories – and lauded The Island Packet's courage in taking on a project that hit so close to home.
The Kansas City Star
Mike Hendricks and Matt Campbell, reporters
In the wake of a fire that killed two firefighters in Kansas City, Hendricks and Campbell unraveled a tragic truth: All across the country, firefighters die preventable deaths because their departments haven't learned from the mistakes of others. Through a sobering series of stories, Hendricks and Campbell "put the fire service on notice," the judges said, "and their work will save lives."
"Harvesting Tax Breaks"
Linda Blackford, John Cheves, reporters; John Stamper, editor; Deedra Lawhead, interactive map/data
The judges cited "Harvesting Tax Breaks" as "an impressive example of identifying an outrageous problem that's hiding in plain sight." Reporters Blackford and Cheves explained how a little-known tax break under Kentucky law that was intended to save family farms was instead being used to subsidize suburban real estate and retail developments. The investigation relied on intense document and data research, and used new tools, including explanatory video and interactive mapping, to put the story in context for readers. The report prompted a state legislative investigation and major changes by local property-valuation authorities.
Opa-locka: City for Sale
Jay Weaver, staff writer; Michael Sallah, senior investigative reporter; Jose Iglesias, videographer; Kara Dapena, designer; Sohail al-Jamea, senior motion graphics producer (McClatchy Video Lab)
Tipped off about a pending federal investigation, the Miami Herald dug deep to discover that Opa-locka was hopelessly broke and on the verge of bankruptcy – and that local officials had concealed the problems by filing false financial statements and tapping into highly restricted funds to keep the money flowing for lavish parties, employee bonuses and pet projects -- including an outdoor digital display with water fountains to promote their political campaigns. The Herald team was soon one step ahead of law enforcement, prompting the FBI at one point to threaten to charge witnesses criminally if they spoke to reporters. The Herald's work prompted action by the governor to put an end to the spending in Opa-locka. The judges called it a "truly impressive example of accountability journalism."
El Nuevo Herald
"Condos de Pesadilla (Condo Nightmares)"
Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina, reporters
In a multi-part series, the team from El Nuevo Herald uncovered and documented widespread and systematic fraud facing the residents of condo communities in Miami-Dade County. This fraud involved state regulators, whose job it is to protect condo owners, as well as election monitors and even notaries. Together with its partner, Univision 23, El Nuevo Herald found at least 84 fraudulent votes and a fraudulent bidding process. The impact was swift: Condo owners through South Florida staged protests and marches, and a grand jury launched an investigation. Just last month, that grand jury decided the state agency has failed its mission.
The Sacramento Bee
Linda Katehi Investigation
Diana Lambert and Sam Stanton, reporters
In work the judges called "impressive," "important" and "on mission," Lambert and Stanton delivered revelation after revelation about the chancellor of the University of California, Davis – including that she had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to bolster her reputation and scrub the internet of negative references to her. Their work prompted student protests, legislative hearings and, ultimately, an investigation by the president of the University of California that cost the chancellor her job.
The (Tacoma) News Tribune
Klara Bowman: Teacher, daughter, alcoholic
Matt Driscoll, columnist and Debbie Cafazzo, reporter
The internet had its fun when school officials in Tacoma fired a young kindergarten teacher for being intoxicated in class. The News Tribune's Matt Driscoll responded with a powerful column recounting his life growing up with an alcoholic father and challenging readers to treat alcoholism as a societal scourge, not a source of jokes. Three months later, Klara Bowman committed suicide. Remembering Driscoll's column, her friends encouraged him to reach out to Bowman's parents and tell the story of her struggle. The judges called the resulting work "haunting and powerful." And as Driscoll's editor notes, "Today, when you Google 'Klara Bowman,' the top result is not a sordid recounting of her worst day, but Driscoll's retelling of her life in full, with all the pain and joy it included."
McClatchy Washington Bureau, McClatchy Video Lab, Miami Herald,
Kevin G. Hall, national correspondent; Tim Johnson, correspondent; Nick Nehamas, reporter; Jim Wyss, Bogota bureau chief; Kyra Gurney, reporter; Sohail Al-Jamea, senior motion graphics producer and Ali Rizvi, videographer
In possibly the largest collaborative journalism project ever undertaken, the Miami Herald and McClatchy teamed with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and media organizations worldwide to produce the Panama Papers – an extraordinary investigation into how money moves secretly around the globe. It was a difficult and complicated story to tell, and the Miami Herald-McClatchy team did it in pieces that brought the news home not just in Miami but elsewhere in the United States. A video produced by McClatchy's Video Lab made a complicated subject clear. The project has already won a number of national reporting prizes, and the President's Award judges lauded it as "truly excellent reporting on a global scale."
McClatchy is a publisher of iconic brands such as the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, The Charlotte Observer, The (Raleigh) News and Observer, and the (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram. McClatchy operates 30 media companies in 29 U.S. markets in 14 states, providing each of its communities with high-quality news and advertising services in a wide array of digital and print formats. McClatchy is headquartered in Sacramento, Calif., and listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MNI.
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Tim Grieve, Vice President, News, (202) 383-6031, firstname.lastname@example.org