McClatchy Announces 10 President's Awards for Journalism Excellence in 2009

Released 02/09/2010

The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI) today announced the award of 10 President's Awards for journalism excellence in 2009, many of them for projects focused on public service journalism. Journalists from Miami to Anchorage, Alaska, were among the winners, and four of the awards cited coverage holding governments accountable for corruption and financial scandals.

Staffers in Raleigh, N.C., Lexington, Ky., Kansas City, Mo., and Miami won for watchdog performances. In Raleigh, The News & Observer covered a wide range of scandals arising in the tenure of recent Gov. Mike Easley, including gifts he received and favors his administration bestowed. Lavish trips, frequent air travel, and a university job for his wife were among the revelations from the paper’s painstaking reporting.

In Lexington, likewise, Herald-Leader reporters exposed abuses of taxpayer money, highlighting excessive spending, corporate perks, high salaries and apparent conflicts of interest from four different government and quasi-governmental institutions. Their reporting led to resignations or firings at each of those bodies and also triggered critical audits, criminal indictments and promises of reform. The Miami Herald and The Kansas City Star also were honored for watchdog reporting. Miami’s entry exposed an unseemly contrast between what the paper dubbed “Dire Budget, Lavish Spending” in county government. In Missouri, the Star uncovered dangerous public health conditions that had been covered up by state government.

The Charlotte Observer won for a non-traditional project. In 2008, the paper uncovered a pay-and-leadership scandal at the local United Way, which triggered widespread community outrage. Despite reforms, donations were falling dramatically in 2009. Concerned about the impact on the community’s neediest residents, the paper organized and led a coalition of eight media partners and enlisted readers in efforts to highlight need and help direct contributions where they could make a difference.

Jonathan S. Landay, who covers national security affairs in the McClatchy Washington Bureau, was honored for his gripping account of an ambush he survived while embedded in Afghanistan and for the rich context his longtime coverage of the region has provided. At The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., practically all hands were part of blanket coverage that told the story of four murdered police officers and subsequent community turmoil.

At the Anchorage Daily News, reporter and columnist Julia O'Malley engaged an extraordinary range of subjects in describing everything from the troubles of returning soldiers to an equal rights battle that has stretched across generations. At The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., reporter Mary Jo Balasco drew on her experience as a registered nurse to help craft detailed, compelling stories that followed a remarkable recovery of a badly burned teenager.

In a first for the President’s Awards competition, judges cited development of a storytelling tool -- an iPhone application -- in recognition of the evolving news landscape. The Miami Herald developed and uses the application to serve a rich variety of sports coverage on area professional and college teams in a paid subscription service that complements newspaper coverage.

The annual McClatchy President's Awards are the highest employee honors given by The McClatchy Company. Judges for the competition were David Westphal, executive in residence at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the former Washington editor for McClatchy; Howard Weaver, the retired vice president, news at McClatchy; and Sandra Mims Rowe, the prizewinning editor of The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., until her recent retirement.

Internet links to the winning projects and a compilation of judges’ comments follow:

The (Raleigh) News & Observer
"Executive Privilege"
Reporters J. Andrew Curliss, Eric Ferreri, Dan Kane and Jay Price; Senior Editor/Enterprise Steve Riley

"Executive Privilege" exposed the toxic gift-and-favor atmosphere that permeated the North Carolina governorship of Mike Easley. Without the tenacious reporting of The News & Observer, it’s a story that might never have been told. Pursuing leads first developed in 2005, The News & Observer discovered a culture of gift-giving and favor-granting by Easley, and the revelations had widespread impact: resignations by the chancellor, provost and board chairman at North Carolina State University; the firing of Easley’s wife from her university job; and criminal investigations by state and federal authorities of Easley, who left office in early 2009.

Lexington Herald-Leader
"It’s Your Money"
Reporters Jennifer Hewlett, Ryan Alessi, John Cheves, Linda Blackford; Computer Assisted Reporting Coordinator Linda Johnson

"It's Your Money" is the essence of watchdog journalism that packs a wallop. The Lexington Herald-Leader's year-long investigation of four government and quasi-governmental agencies in Kentucky unearthed massive abuses of power and spending and resulted in multiple resignations, dismissals and policy reforms. The director of the Lexington Public Library was fired. The executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities resigned. So did the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Counties. And four top officials of the Blue Grass Airport were indicted on 17 counts of theft. The Herald-Leader demonstrated with stunning clarity the importance of skilled reporters checking government power.

The Miami Herald
"County Hall: Dire Budget, Lavish Spending"
Reporters Matthew Haggman and Jack Dolan; Urban Affairs Editor Ronnie Greene

"County Hall: Dire Budget, Lavish Spending" struck a nerve with many a Miami-Dade County taxpayer. At a time when the county was reducing spending by $444 million, The Miami Herald exposed the hypocrisy of lavish spending by some county commissioners: first-class travel to foreign capitals with no results to show for it; overtime payments to county workers who served as commissioners’ personal chauffeurs; a $9.5 million slush fund commissioners tapped as their political kitty; big raises for the county mayor’s advisers. These revelations forced significant reforms. And they served as a powerful reminder to political leaders: The newspaper is still watching.

The Kansas City Star
Lake of the Ozarks Contamination
Reporter Karen Dillon

The Lake of the Ozarks, one of the most popular recreation areas in the Midwest, was dangerously polluted with E.coli bacteria from raw sewage. State officials knew that but didn’t tell the public, perhaps for fear of dampening the economic windfall of Memorial Day visitors. Karen Dillon was tipped about brewing troubles and drew on he expertise as an environmental beat reporter to start digging out the facts, finally revealing a series of lies and cover-ups that endangered public health and stained government honor. Jobs were lost and legislation enacted as a result of her dogged work. Far more importantly, the health and faith of citizens were protected by a dedicated champion at the newspaper.

The Charlotte Observer
"Mission Possible"

"Mission Possible" is an unusual name for a newspaper project, but unusual was a central fact of The Charlotte Observer’s campaign on behalf of desperate community organizations trying to serve the area’s neediest residents. The year before, the paper had appropriately uncovered and reported leadership and financial scandals at the United Way, the region’s main umbrella charity. Not surprisingly, donors became more reluctant to give as a result. The Observer stepped into that breach, organizing and participating in a unique and innovative media partnership that publicized community need and helped move citizens past their reactions to failed leadership of the past. With admirable transparency and obvious vigor, the effort succeeded in energizing area churches, charities and citizens to meet these needs.

McClatchy Washington Bureau
Afghanistan in Crisis
McClatchy National Security Correspondent Jonathan S. Landay

Few reporters, analysts or even diplomats have spent as much time studying and visiting Afghanistan as Jonathan S. Landay, who covers national security matters from the McClatchy Washington Bureau and has been reporting on the region for more than 20 years. As the growing conflict in that country moves to the center of the global agenda, Landay's wealth of knowledge has become increasingly essential. That was especially on display over a week in early September, when his embed mission with American forces ended up in a withering ambush by a superior force of Taliban troops. Landay's reporting not only conveyed the urgency and drama of that experience -- including an understated account of his own danger and the role he played -- but also drew on his extensive reservoir of expertise to demonstrate how bad intelligence helped set the stage for the deadly ambush. His background reports on Afghan politics and culture continue to inform readers who need to know about their country’s most dangerous and perhaps essential foreign engagement.

The (Tacoma) News Tribune
Lakewood Police Officers Shooting
Reporters Sean Robinson, Adam Lynn, Stacey Mulick, Mike Archbold and Brian Everstine

The coverage of the tragic killing of four young Lakewood police officers on a Sunday morning as they drank coffee, readying for the their shifts, naturally gripped the Washington community and the nation. The News Tribune staff showed its news muscle online and in print for the next 10 days, doing dozens of breaking news posts, e-mails alerts and news tweets each day, getting record traffic to their website, and at the same time publishing an aggressive, thorough and dramatic daily newspaper. From the first day forward the Tacoma staff kept the multiple threads going and clearly distinct: the victims, the perpetrator, the manhunt and the community. The staff appropriately captured the community outrage, fear and support of the families and at the same time revealed, piece by piece, the sickness and depravity that motivated the killer. The staff displayed the best breaking news instincts and, at every step, went beyond the obvious.

Anchorage Daily News
Columns by Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley reports with the tenacity of a seasoned reporter, writes with the grace of a gifted essayist and tells a story with the skill of a wise and genial sage. Her columns are wide-ranging, from the deeply personal to the political to the probing of societal values. In all, she finds the universal threads and mines them, revealing layers of complexity as she tells a story. In "Damaged and discharged…" she goes on an extended search, trying to find the truth of a soldier's story of post-traumatic stress disorder and, in not finding it, reveals the leftover pain of war and the damage to those who serve us. In "A fire chief should know…" she calmly recounts every detail surrounding a chief's decision to have a fire engine ferry his daughter from school and in the process leaves us the lessons of his leadership failure. She beautifully connects with readers in each of her columns and shows a knowledge and love of the community and an enormous respect for readers.

The (Rock Hill) Herald
Teen Recovers From Critical Burns
Reporters Mary Jo Balasco and Toya Graham

Mary Jo Balasco's stories on the horrific burns of 13-year-old Connor McKemey and his three dozen surgeries and long road to recovery are compelling because of her reach and expertise. The handling of these stories demands sensitivity, great trust from the family and, beyond that, a high level journalistic skill to lift it above the dramatic but straightforward tragic tale of an injured child. Balasco brings a medical background and a clear love of the science of medicine to probe the complexities and make this an excellent example of explanatory narrative. She researches and describes in detail much of his treatment, the harvesting and growing of replacement skin and the new developments in the treatment of burn victims that gives McKemey a high-tech face mask. It is a science story and a very strong story human story, one that The Herald and reporter Toya Graham continued to follow throughout the year.

The Miami Herald
iPhone Apps

In a time of diminished resources but undiminished demand, how does a news organization meet the needs of particular readers –- to be specific, the sports-crazy readers of the Miami region? The Miami Herald answered that question partly by developing a series of popular iPhone applications that focused its coverage of area pro and college teams in a handy, timely form that many were willing to pay for. The apps, which cost $1.99 per season, sold more than 16,000 copies in 2009 and helped leverage print advertising campaigns as well. The Miami Dolphins football app reached the top five among paid sports apps on Apple’s iTunes store and will be reconfigured as a monthly subscription service next season, helping provide a platform and a model for other coverage areas.

About McClatchy

The McClatchy Company is the third largest newspaper company in the United States, with 30 daily newspapers, 43 non-dailies, and direct marketing and direct mail operations. McClatchy also operates leading local websites in each of its markets which extend its audience reach. The websites offer users comprehensive news and information, advertising, e-commerce and other services. Together with its newspapers and direct marketing products, these interactive operations make McClatchy the leading local media company in each of its premium high growth markets. McClatchy-owned newspapers include The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, and The News & Observer (Raleigh).

McClatchy also owns a portfolio of premium digital assets, including 14.4% of CareerBuilder, the nation's largest online job site, 25.6% of Classified Ventures, a newspaper industry partnership that offers two of the nation's premier classified websites: the auto website, cars.com, and the rental site, Apartments.com and 33.3% of HomeFinder, LLC which operates the real estate website HomeFinder.com. McClatchy is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MNI.