#MediaMonday – SPJ First Amendment Awards

The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized some of the top journalists in Arizona with its annual awards – spotlighting some of the best in the industry.
The First Amendment Award honors published or broadcast work in 2012 that involved significant reliance on public records and open meetings.
This year’s four honorees are Karina Bland and Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic, Carol Ann Alaimo of the Arizona Daily Star and the News21 Project Team from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Winners, time to share:
Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic, for “Domestic violence deaths in Arizona tragically consistent”
It is humbling to be included among such great works.
The information available in public records showed how one person’s story could be reflected in the numbers, illustrating the depth and breadth of the problem of domestic violence and offering a better understanding about how and why these things happen. I credit the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, police departments and nonprofits for compiling the records that tell such stories.
Bob Ortega, The Arizona Republic, for his four-part series on “The Price of Prisons”
Our goal with this series was to give people a look at an out-of-sight, out-of-mind prison system that houses inmates under brutal conditions that foster self-harm, that allows deadly drugs to flow in from outside, that lets inmates die from treatable medical conditions, and that fails to protect inmates from prison predators.  We also looked closely at how the state’s routine use of long-term solitary confinement can destroy prisoners’ mental health.
Arizona’s Department of Corrections was, unsurprisingly, extremely uncooperative, forcing me to file and fight for hundreds of information requests. I also relied on leaked (and verified) information from helpful people inside the prison system. Fortunately, I’d done a lot of reporting on the prisons over the prior year, which helped me develop a good network of sources.
The other challenge, of course, is that many people think anyone in prison deserves whatever happens to them. So I worked hard to put faces on the stories – to show who these people were who paid with their lives for often minor crimes.   
Carol Ann Alaimo, the Arizona Daily Star, for “PCC legal costs skyrocket”
The importance of the public’s right to know is not an abstraction to me.  I’ve spent time in a number of countries with no free press and have seen how corruption flourishes and how societies suffer as a result.  I am grateful to work for a news organization that encourages watchdog journalism, in a place where there are laws aimed at protecting access to information. 
The places I’ve been to that lacked press freedoms include Iraq, Cuba, and several formerly communist countries (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia Republic) that were part of the old Soviet Union.
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s News21 Project Team for “Who Can Vote?”
News21 is a national investigative reporting program funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Twenty-four students from 11 universities worked on the project, overseen by Kristin Gilger, an associate dean at the Cronkite School.
We think this helped change the discussion regarding voter fraud preceding the last presidential election.
Based on the exhaustive public records search, the News21 analysis of voter fraud shows:

  • Since 2000, while fraud has occurred, the number of cases is infinitesimal.
  • In-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. Only 10 such cases over more than a decade were reported.
  • There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other category. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases.
  • Voters make a lot of mistakes, from people accidentally voting twice to voting in the wrong precinct. However, few cases reveal a coordinated effort to change election results.
  • Election officials make a lot of mistakes, giving voters ballots when they’ve already voted, for instance. Election workers are often confused about voters’ eligibility requirements.

Additional findings and more thorough analysis are available by clicking here.

Written by
at May 20, 2013

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