McClatchy (NYSE American: MNI) today announced 12 President’s Awards for journalists who focused on local accountability journalism that safeguarded the most vulnerable in their communities and led to needed reforms.
The Miami Herald exposed the sweetheart deal a prosecutor who now serves in Donald Trump’s cabinet brokered for multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein after he sexually assaulted scores of teenage girls. The story continues to reverberate nationally, sparking new scrutiny of the plea deal and giving victims perhaps another chance at justice.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also found scores of young victims of sexual abuse in a sweeping investigation of independent fundamentalist Baptist churches, revealing how loosely affiliated churches and private universities worked to cover up crimes and relocate offenders across the country.
The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., detailed shocking assaults on a severely disabled girl at the hands of a teacher and bus driver — and the school district’s gross mishandling of the case. The State in Columbia, S.C., uncovered widespread corruption at a rural electric co-op, reporting that resulted in the ouster of the entire board. The Sacramento Bee explored the dangerous consequences of understaffing and a lack of law enforcement resources in sparsely populated sections of Northern California.
McClatchy also honored two winners in the category of breaking news: The Sacramento Bee for its harrowing coverage of the deadly Camp Fire; and the Miami Herald for its timely, probing work on the collapse of a bridge at Florida International University.
The McClatchy President’s Awards, now in their 19th year, recognize the best work of 2018 by journalists company-wide.
“These extraordinary examples of essential, local journalism represent the diligence and passion of our reporters across the country,” said Craig Forman, McClatchy’s President and CEO. “Not only did these stories uncover corruption, expose scandals and provide vital information for the communities they serve, they prompted official investigations, new laws and needed reforms. In short, they’re stories that made an impact and strengthened the communities we serve.”
Judging this year’s competition were Gilbert Bailon, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Thomas Koetting, deputy managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Elizabeth Williamson, feature writer for The New York Times; Mike Fannin, editor of McClatchy’s Central Region and editor of The Kansas City Star; and Colleen McCain Nelson, McClatchy Opinion Editor and Kansas City Star editorial page editor.
Below is a complete list of this year’s President’s Award winners, along with comments from the judges and links to the stories.
Perversion of Justice
Julie K. Brown, Emily Michot
An investigation revealing how a multi-millionaire and serial pedophile who sexually assaulted scores of girls leveraged his wealth and connections to escape accountability for his crimes. Reporter Julie K. Brown and videographer Emily Michot showed us how Alexander Acosta, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Labor, and former U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, presided over this travesty, secretly and personally negotiating a lenient plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein and then concealing the agreement from the police, the judge, and ultimately, from Epstein’s young victims, denying them justice. These stories generated deep national outrage and an overdue review of the case, the outcome of which is still unfolding. Without the sensitivity and full-bore investigative skills deployed in this series, Acosta’s shameful failure to do his job would not have reached our national consciousness or secured Epstein’s many victims an opportunity for justice long-denied them.
(Biloxi) Sun Herald
Assault of Disabled Girl on St. Martin School Bus Captured on Shocking Video
Margaret Baker, Amanda McCoy
A series exposing the horrific abuse a severely disabled child experienced at the hands of her so-called caregivers. The reporters detailed every parent or guardian’s nightmare: assaults on a defenseless child that took place on a school bus, at the hands of people entrusted with her care. The reporters secured the shocking videotape and unearthed records of the abuse and the school district’s failure to report it up the chain, helping the perpetrators escape with a slap on the wrist. Their work prompted a state investigation, strengthening of school district policies and new proposals to make such abuse a felony. In their determination to get to the bottom of what may have originally seemed an isolated incident in a small community, Margaret Baker and Amanda McCoy achieved the highest aim of journalism — to give voice to the voiceless and protect the rights of Americans who cannot stand up for themselves.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Spirit of Fear
A series of stories exposing decades of sexual abuse at independent fundamental Baptist churches and the way a web of churches and schools covered up the crimes and relocated offenders. Judges found reporter Sarah Smith’s work a revelation. The series detailed how church leaders fostered a climate of intimidation and used their connections to help abusers advance without checks or consequences. The voices of ex-members describing rape and abuse were powerful and heartbreaking. “It’s impossible to read this and not be moved – and angry,” judges said.
The (Columbia) State
Corruption at the Tri-County Electric Co-op
An investigation into the corrupt leaders of an electric co-op who used their positions to enrich themselves. Through dogged, original reporting, Avery Wilks uncovered a giant scandal within a small co-op in rural South Carolina, exposing the part-time board members who collected outsized pay and benefits while customers were saddled with some of the highest electricity rates in the state. Wilks combined a deep dive into thousands of documents with strong interviews and source development to deliver a series of well-crafted stories that had a high outrage factor and clearly explained why the 1.5 million South Carolinians served by co-ops should care.The judges were moved by the far-reaching impact of these stories, as Wilks’ reporting changed the course of events for the better: Board members were voted out of office. A criminal investigation was launched. And legislators are promising reforms.
Scott Fowler and Jeff Siner of The Charlotte Observer; Davin Coburn of McClatchy Studios
Exceptional multimedia project on one of America’s most infamous murder-for-hire cases. Columnist Scott Fowler channels his deep knowledge and exclusive sourcing on the topic into a tour de force podcast and narrative. The series doesn’t simply look back; it brings important new reporting — from a jailhouse interview with the man who pulled the trigger to a conversation with Carruth himself — and elevates the story to another level of understanding. Judges considered Fowler’s project to be the definitive work on the subject.
The Kansas City Star
Missouri’s Child Brides
An investigation that exposed Missouri as a national destination for child marriages, which prompted the state legislature to raise the minimum age for marriage in just 68 days. State lawmakers even praised The Star for raising the troubling practice. Six couples shared their stories of child marriage, and the reporting spanned nationally to illustrate how Missouri had become the child bride mecca for the country.
The (Durham) Herald-Sun
The Story of My Street: Gentrification in Durham
Dawn Vaughan, Zachery Eanes, Carli Brosseau, Mark Schultz, Julia Wall
A yearlong project on gentrification and neighborhood change in Durham, using stories, columns, town meetings and social media. This was clearly a must-read for anyone interested or engaged in the community. Judges were deeply impressed by the sustained focus of the work and the intimate connection it fostered between the news organization and its audience. The reporters used historical background, supporting data and clear explanations of economic realities to shed light on what is happening today. “If you talk about branding, building an audience, being essential to your readership — this had it all,” judges said.
The Sacramento Bee
Rural sheriffs, can they protect you?
Anita Chabria, Dale Kasler, Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese
An investigation into the stark and dangerous lack of law enforcement officers and resources in some rural areas of Northern California. The reporters uncovered disturbing tales of citizens put in harm’s way because of understaffing in sheriff’s offices, detailing the substantial risks of leaving sprawling stretches of the state essentially unprotected. From the sheriff who abandoned his job but still collected his paycheck to the couple whose lives were endangered because the closest deputy was three hours away, the stories were revelatory. And if not for The Bee’s deep reporting on a largely uncovered topic, readers would be unaware of these troubling issues.
El Nuevo Herald
Puerto Rico: La Isla Olvidada
Matias J. Ocner, Al Diaz, Pedro Portal, David Santiago, Carl Juste and Nancy San Martin.
A beautifully crafted documentary that captured vivid images, voices of the people and stories of continued struggle a year after the island was devastated by a hurricane. The daily battle for clean water, housing, medical treatment and reopening businesses continues after 2,975 people perished in the hurricane. The series was produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.
Stirring the Waters
Compelling reporting on the dearth of reliable drinking water in Central Appalachia. Reporter Will Wright vividly shows how families in Eastern Kentucky literally pray for rain while their water systems fail. Wright’s series of stories — part of a collaborative effort involving several media partners in West Virginia, in partnership with Report for America — resulted in the state attorney general calling for the takeover of an Eastern Kentucky water district plagued with reports of poor water quality. Judges thought the reporting brought to light not only the problems in the region but also the plight of the victims. “Wright surfaces the humanity of poor people who are humiliated by having to line their homes with empty buckets just to have usable water,” the judges said.
The Fall of the Florida International University Bridge
In-depth coverage of the frantic hours following the collapse of Florida International University’s pedestrian bridge and the heartbreaking aftermath of the tragedy that claimed six lives. The Herald was on the scene almost instantly, and its team of reporters filed continuous, real-time updates at all hours, using every platform available to provide readers visuals and details from the horrific scene on Southwest Eighth Street. In the days that followed, Herald reporters attacked this story from numerous angles, eloquently and sensitively telling the wrenching tales of victims and survivors — “Mom! The bridge fell on us!” — while launching investigations to unravel and explain how this concrete span could suddenly come crashing down.
The Sacramento Bee
Camp Fire, the Destruction of Paradise
Haunting account of the deadly, mass-casualty fires in Northern California. The writing and reporting take readers to the smoking timber and ash to make sense of the human toll. Beginning with a fire that erupted 90 minutes away in Butte County, the Bee’s staff went beyond the breaking news and spent months documenting the incredible loss of life and stories of survival, finding both tales of sorrow and salvation.
McClatchy operates 30 media companies in 14 states, providing each of its communities with strong independent local journalism in the public interest and advertising services in a wide array of digital and print formats. McClatchy publishes iconic local brands including the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, The Charlotte Observer, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, and the Fort WorthStar-Telegram. McClatchy is headquartered in Sacramento, Calif., and listed on the New York Stock Exchange American under the symbol MNI. #ReadLocal