Eight Awards Honor Excellence by McClatchy Journalists

Released 08/02/2006

McClatchy President’s Awards for excellence have gone to eight different organizations in recognition of superior work in the first half of 2006.

Three of the award winners were powerful examples of reporting that holds government accountable and brings needed change. The Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star’s uncovering of abuses by the county district attorney; exposure of a questionable program that lets some defendants substitute charitable contributions for jail time in the Tri Cities in Washington state; and a comprehensive, condemnatory report on untested, unsafe water wells by The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., were all honored by the judges. In each of those cases, substantial change came about as the result of their journalism.

Two winners were praised for powerful storytelling: a dramatic series about a tragic shipwreck in Alaska, and a touching portrait of cloistered nuns in Fresno won for the Anchorage Daily News and The Fresno Bee.

A McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter and a Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer were honored for telling about how the economic fortunes of Axochiapan, Mexico, are entwined with the Twin Cities; and a Minneapolis reporter and photographer also won for their gripping, real-time account of the separation of conjoined twins at the Mayo Clinic.

The Sacramento Bee’s website also won a President’s Award for an extensive redesign that judges said greatly enhanced its journalistic presentation and helped ensure that online operations stay in touch with the way audiences choose to access information.

Twice a year, the McClatchy President’s Awards recognize the finest journalism at McClatchy newspapers and websites across the nation. Winners receive $1,000 awards, and their organization receives a crystal trophy. Outside judges for this round of awards were Rusty Coats, the general manager of TBO.com, the online component of The Tampa Tribune news center; and Jay Harris, Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. They were joined in the judging by Howard Weaver, McClatchy vice president, news.

Here are the award winners, judges comments and related internet links, where available.

Anchorage Daily News
“Drift to Disaster”
Reporters Megan Holland and Doug O’ Harra

"Drift to Disaster” reads like an adventure novel and unfolds in near-cinematic detail. Presented in seven bite-size installments, the narrative of shipwreck tragedy and rescue heroics in the Bering Sea was both compelling storytelling and an important post-mortem look at the disaster that claimed six lives and a 738-foot cargo ship. It’s hard to imagine any Alaska readers who did not follow this compelling account through its weeklong publication.

Star Tribune
“Two in a Million”
Reporter Maura Lerner; Photographer Joey McLeister

Compelling stories of childhood medical drama are a staple of American journalism, but few offer readers more intensity, emotional connection or insight than the Star Tribune’s gripping real-time account of conjoined twin girls who were separated at the Mayo Clinic in early May. Reporter Maura Lerner and photographer Joey McLeister used intimate access and the parents’ trust to bring readers uncommon closeness to the drama of the Carlsen twins. Through multiple online updates, daily newspaper stories, and more distanced retrospectives, they brought us all into the inner circle of a unique human experience.

Website Redesign
Technology Leader Martyn Adair; Online Content Manager Linda Ash; Designer Seth Van Booven; Web Engineer Eric Parker

Sacbee.com’s redesign incorporates several innovations that make it stand out not only as a winning website, but as a model for the evolution of journalism. Its homepage offers depth in three dimensions through the use of dynamically rotating content panels, which highlight key pillars – local, politics and entertainment – and also deliver above-the-scroll tabs to highlight areas of great importance to users, such as health and food. Its header and logo give users a strong sense of place in Sacramento, and its navigation is streamlined, reflecting understanding that users are more likely to navigate via search. But it’s the story-level pages that truly advance the site. Foremost, including comment capability on all stories is important – and innovative for mainstream media – because it establishes sacbee.com as the starter of community conversations. This is gutsy and necessary to remain relevant to audiences. Also, the story-level pages include Most E-mailed, Most Commented, Most Popular and Most Searched panels, acknowledging that many readers enter the site via story-level pages, rather than via section fronts; it likewise acknowledges and supports the need to keep news organizations at the relevant center of conversations, reflecting what people are talking about. Overall, sacbee.com is an excellent example of winning design, functionality and evolving journalism for 2006.

The News & Observer
"Clean Wells Left to Chance”

The News & Observer has a best-of-class reputation in the industry for its computer-assisted reporting, and “N.C. Water: Safe to Drink?” is a textbook lesson in how to do CAR the right way. First, it is wide-reaching: The investigation showed thousands of wells were not being tested and that there were virtually no teeth in the laws governing water safety. Second, its foundation of data becomes readable through the use of varied sources, adding narrative voice. Third, it approaches the story from a “We Live Here, Too” perspective; its journalistic voice is Carolinian and not anthropological. Fourth – and most importantly – it changed the world. In fact, the series effected change even prior to publication as government sources began trying to correct wrongs highlighted by reporting before the story went to print. The News & Observer acknowledged these changes in its series. Too often, journalists fulfill their watchdog role but do not let the community know what they’ve done. The N&O does this without coming across as self-congratulatory or promotional. It did its job and did it well.

McClatchy Washington Bureau/Star Tribune
“The Money Pipeline to Little Minneapolis”
Washington Bureau Reporter Kevin Diaz; Star Tribune Photographer Elizabeth Flores

This series from the McClatchy Washington Bureau is an excellent blend of the facts, figures and real faces behind one small town in southern Mexico and its principal source of income in the upper Midwest. Kevin Diaz gives national context to a story that is extremely local – in both Minneapolis and Axochiapan, Mexico. The reporting in southern Mexico and in Minneapolis – conducted largely in Spanish – brings human faces and drama to a story that too easily could have been a dry retelling of financial and census data. The imagery from Axochiapan shows a true eye for detail and story: old cars with Minnesota plates, half-constructed homes, rusting rebar, and an absent generation of men. Following a single worker, Felix, was a high point of the series, detailing the harsh reality of immigration without dipping into a maudlin tone. Residents of Minneapolis and Axochiapan came away from this series with a deeper understanding of the white, black and gray areas of this important national story.

Merced Sun-Star
Investigation of District Attorney Gordon Spencer
Reporter Chris Collins

Steady, tenacious reporting by Merced Sun-Star reporter Chris Collins exposed a history of unethical behavior by the Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer. Spencer’s misdeeds – revealed by Collins' reporting and government investigations – ranged from impersonating an investigator to securing a financial benefit for his son to seeking and receiving reimbursement for expenses he did not incur. Spencer resigned in mid-July and is now the subject of a multi-faceted state criminal investigation. After the Sun-Star’s reporting, county policies were changed to prevent future abuses. Through persistent reporting with strong support from his paper, Collins brought the disinfectant of public scrutiny to play on an unworthy public servant.

Tri-City Herald
“Cash for Deals”
Reporter John Trumbo

On first reading, this story seemed incredible. Defendants charged with crimes avoided prosecution by donating hundreds to thousands of dollars in cash to a charity – but the money never made it to the charity. Tri-City Herald reporter John Trumbo delved through hundreds of public records and conducted dozens of interviews as he exposed a pattern of corruption involving officers of the Benton County District Court. Trumbo’s persistent digging exposed the scheme, prompted numerous inquiries, brought on condemnation of the unethical behavior by professional prosecutors and led to the dismissal of a city prosecutor, a contract public defender and suspension of the questionable donations-for-deals program that had been abused.

The Fresno Bee
“Prayer…and Ice Cream”
Reporter Diana Marcum; Photographer Tomas Ovalle

Human interest stories that touch the heart and lift the spirit are an endearing foundation of good journalism that continue to delight readers. Fresno Bee reporter Diana Marcum and photographer Tomas Ovalle combined to tell one such story through fine writing and storytelling photos about a lonely convent where nuns in the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master quietly celebrate their Lord behind the iron gates of the convent. Their story touched the hearts of many in Fresno, who have donated time and money to renovate and restore the convent and now people once again come to the convent for Mass.

About McClatchy

The McClatchy Company (NYSE:MNI) is the second-largest newspaper company in the United States, with 32 daily newspapers and approximately 50 non-dailies. McClatchy-owned newspapers include the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, and The (Raleigh) News & Observer. In addition, McClatchy has a robust network of valuable internet assets, including leading local websites in each of its daily newspaper markets, offering readers information, comprehensive news, advertising, e-commerce and other services. The company also owns and operates McClatchy Interactive, an interactive operation that provides websites with content, publishing tools and software development; Real Cities (http://www.RealCities.com), the largest national network of city and regional websites, operating in more than 110 U.S. markets, and is part owner of CareerBuilder, the nation’s largest online classified employment listing service. McClatchy also owns 25 percent of Classified Ventures, a newspaper industry partnership that includes such online classified websites as cars.com and apartments.com.