Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Really small daily wins Tenn.'s top investigative reporting prize for series on local Somali refugees

Friday, we reported that a weekly newspaper won the overall prize in a Tennessee Press Association contest category that also included dailies. The next night, the Times-Gazette of Shelbyville, circulation 7,385, fifth smallest of the state's 27 daily papers, won Tennessee's top award for investigative journalism.

"Times-Gazette staff writer Brian Mosely received the state's top award for investigative reporting by The Associated Press Saturday night, highlighting a total of 18 awards won by the paper in the state's two major press competitions held this weekend," the Rust Communications paper bragged (with justification) in a non-bylined story yesterday. Mosely received the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting from the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors "for his five-part series about the influx of Somali refugees in Bedford County," Editor & Publisher reports. "In all, the paper won five awards from TAPME in the category of newspapers with a daily circulation under 10,000." (Read more)

The Christmas-week series was truly investigative because Mosely had to write it without cooperation from the refugees, many of whom work at a local Tyson Foods plant and have had difficulty integrating into the community. In a Jan. 31 speech to the Shelbyville Rotary Club, published in the paper Feb. 2, Mosely said the series "exposed an undercurrent of fear and distrust of the Islamic refugees ... even hate," through comments on the paper's Web site. "I was also called a bigot by Muslims from outside the community. One local critic even accused me of fiendishly manipulating my readers, hoping that that my articles would inspire someone to commit a hate crime against the refugees."

In an opinion piece at the conclusion of the series, Mosely (right) wrote, "Over the past few years, this community has given a helping hand and opened their arms to the new arrivals from Somalia. In return, many of these refugees have given Shelbyville the finger." And he said that some sources he contacted for background "seemed to be so blinded by political correctness that they would excuse any behavior."

Mosely told the Rotarians that the series accomplished at least one thing: "It started a discussion about our new neighbors and what can be done to help them become a part of the community. The Times-Gazette have already been paid a visit from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, who want to help out the Somalis. I'm also given to understand that a similar effort is currently underway here in the county as well. But, as I said in a recent op-ed column, where were these offers of help four years ago when the refugees began to move to our community? They didn't come from the charitable organizations who settled them here. After a certain amount of time, the refugees are left basically on their own." To read Mosely's coverage, click here. For his blog, go here.

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