Friday, March 12, 2010

Southwest Va. energy series wins first community journalism prize in National Journalism Awards

The first award for community journalism in the National Journalism Awards goes to Daniel Gilbert, left, of the Bristol Herald Courier "for lifting the lid on a 20-year-old state law that allowed the energy industry to profit without compensating property owners" in Southwest Virginia, says the Scripps Howard Foundation, which sponsors the awards. Each award carries a cash prize of $10,000. We noted the 28-year-old Gilbert's series in The Rural Blog in January, saying it exposed "the mess Virginia and its natural-gas companies have made of a law and program to develop the state's coalbed methane and pay royalties to those who have a claim on it." The editor of the 33,000-circulation Media General paper, J. Todd Foster, wrote that it exposed "malfeasance, corruption and outrage."

Scripps Howard established the award because "Community Journalism is vitally important, not just to journalism today, but to the future of journalism, and we wanted to recognize the outstanding work that's being done," Vice President Sue Porter said. Recognition is more likely with the new category; Gilbert's entry impressed judges in the public-service competition, but was not a finalist. But one community journalist was a finalist in another category.

Jim Kenyon, a staff writer for The Valley News in Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., circulation 16,000, was a finalist in the NJA's commentary competition, along with Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal. The winner was Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. For examples of Kenyon's work, taking Dartmouth College administrators and faculty to task for not sharing in the pain of budget cuts, and uncovering preferential treatment for a movie star who got caught speeding on a rural highway, click here. In the editorial writing category, Jamie Lucke of the Lexington Herald-Leader was a finalist with a package that partly addressed rural-Kentucky issues such as coal mining and bad teeth. The other finalist was Barb Arrigo of the Detroit Free Press; the winner was Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times.

Also of rural interest, Charles Duhigg of The New York Times won the environmental reporting award for his "Toxic Waters" series about inadequacies of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The series, several pieces of which have been excerpted on The Rural Blog, "prompted wide-ranging overhauls in enforcement of the 1970s laws," the foundation says. Finalists in the category included Abrahm Lustgarten and Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, who brought national attention to the problems caused by deep natural-gas drilling, also often excerpted here. And Thomas Frank of USA Today won the Raymond Clapper Award for Washington Reporting, for his stories on how a tax on airline tickets funds general-aviation airports, many if not most of them in rural areas.

A book featuring the winners and their work, and videos about the winners' work and acceptance speeches, will be available at after the April 23 awards presentation. A printed copy may also be requested. The community-journalism category was judged by Kerry Duke, managing editor of; Rusty Coats, vice president of content and marketing for E.W. Scripps Co.; and the undersigned, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

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