Sunday, September 30, 2018

SPJ convention closes with tributes to local journalism; less reporting leads to corruption, veteran Fla. reporter says

Tributes to local journalism were a big part of the evening as the Society of Professional Journalists wrapped up its annual convention in Baltimore Saturday night.

"The power of local journalism is what I'm most concerned about, and have been most inspired about tonight," said Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," who was honored as an SPJ Fellow, the society's highest honor.

Mary Ellen Klas
SPJ Sunshine Awards went to Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald for 30 years of reporting about the influence of money in Florida politics and Rachel LaCorte of The Associated Press for reporting that led to a successful lawsuit invalidating the Washington Legislature's secrecy of email and text messages. The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award and $10,000 went to the Kansas City Star for its series about secrecy in state government in Kansas, which resulted in passage of laws, including one to open records on children who died of abuse or neglect. The Arizona Republic and other Gannett Co. newspapers won the New America Award for "The Wall," a series about past, present and possible future along the Mexican border.

Klas, a Harvard University Nieman fellow this year, said she is researching how the decline in local reporting leads to increases in corruption. She said Florida has seen "a general and persistent erosion" of government ethics, but the number of complaints to state ethics agencies "have declined dramatically" and officials there blame a reduction in journalism. LaCorte said the full-time state-capital press corps in Olympia, Wash., is down to five from 20.

Todd, who grew up in Miami, said SPJ leads all other journalism organizations in advocating transparency, not just of government, but of the news media. "We're all in this together, as journalists," he said. "We hold each other's credibility in our hands. I'm aware of it at NBC all the time. We make a mistake, and it reverberates across the entire journalism landscape, and vice versa -- especially in these times, when we have people who have weaponized the First Amendment, right? Started organizations that claim to be journalistic organizations but really are designed to undermine us. Undermine democracy, undermine many things. . . . We've never had more pressure on us to get it right."

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