2011 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism

By: Press Release | Journalism Center on Children & Families

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (July 27, 2011) — The Journalism Center on Children & Families at the University of Maryland is proud to announce this year’s winners of the 17th annual Casey Medals.

From “Caught in the Crossfire,” Barbara Davidson’s heart-rending photos in the Los Angeles Times of those touched by gangland shootings; to the inevitable consequences of a nation rocked by recession in “Invisible Families” by The Seattle Times; to the exacting reporting and eye-opening findings of Patricia Wen’s “The Other Welfare” for The Boston Globe, the winners make the unseen visible, motivate action and uphold the high standards the Casey Medals set for exemplary journalism on the dilemmas of children and families.

ABC News 20/20, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, National Catholic Reporter, Minnesota Public Radio and KCTV5-TV (Kansas City, Mo.) were among the other news organizations honored.

The 15 winners in 12 categories will receive a Casey Medal, as well as a $1,000 award, at an October ceremony in Washington, D.C. Those winners will compete for two additional $5,000 awards presented by the America’s Promise Alliance, a 400-plus-member partnership dedicated to bettering the lives of children.

More than 500 journalists from across the nation entered this year’s contest. Entries were screened and evaluated by 27 judges who looked for masterful storytelling, deep reporting and maximum impact that provided a fresh take on socially significant issues.

The Journalism Center on Children & Families is a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Since 1993, JCCF has helped more than 14,000 journalists cover critical social issues by providing training, resources, story ideas and inspiration. More information can be found at www.journalismcenter.org.

PROJECT/SERIES: Over 200,000 circulation
WINNER: “The Other Welfare,” The Boston Globe, Patricia Wen and Mark Morrow
This highly readable and thoroughly reported series deftly exposes waste, mismanagement and abuse within a $10 billion federal program. The reporter found faces and figures to support anecdotal claims that the Supplemental Security Income program had, as she writes, “gone seriously astray, becoming an alternative welfare system with troubling built-in incentives that risk harm to children.” Dogged reporting reveals that parents are willing to label their children “disabled,” despite its limiting nature, as long as the diagnosis came with a paycheck; that SSI workers blindly pay benefits years after a childhood diagnosis; and teens are motivated to continue the cycle because their families can’t afford to lose the benefit. Her reporting led to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Runner-up: “Deadly Neglect,” Chicago Tribune, Sam Roe, Jared S. Hopkins, Kaarin Tisue and George Papajohn
This project gave voices to a vulnerable population of profoundly disabled children and young adults who were first failed by their families, then by their caretakers at Alden Village North and finally by the state investigators who allowed the “deadly neglect” to continue, taking note of violations and assessing fines, but doing little else. This is what newspapers are supposed to do: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, saving as many lives as possible in the process.

Honorable Mention: “Private Struggles of Women and Girls: A feature portfolio,” St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Lane T. DeGregory
These elegantly written slices of life illuminate sad, tough realities. The reporter picks extreme examples to drive home universal family themes of love, loss, insecurity and possibility. The tales reflect the world and are likely to spark both conversation and introspection.
The Swan Project
One Teen Boy, Two Teen Girls and Homicide” 
Unemployment Weights on Her, and She Has a Job
Making the Cut for Gainesville
A Little Girl’s Signature Kept by Time

PROJECT/SERIES: Under 200,000 circulation
WINNER: “Cradle of Secrets,” The Charlotte Observer, Fred Clasen-Kelly, Karen Garloch, Lisa Hammersly and Franco Ordoñez

This team’s curiosity, tenacity and concern for the welfare of children led to state action to strengthen investigations into the death of children. Journalists at The Observer built their own database by compiling records that cost the newspaper thousands of dollars. Based on their findings, reporters were then left with the grim and unenviable task of interviewing parents who had lost children — and pressing them for details about what exactly happened to cause the child’s death. The powerful series led to changes in state government and prompted parents to rethink how to best keep their infants safe. The human drama makes the series hard to put down. The quality and utility of the information on safe sleeping makes it a potential lifesaver.

Runner-up: “Promise Not to Tell,” The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, Roy Wenzl and Jean Hays
Incest is an almost impossible story to tell; the mere mention of the word prompts many readers to turn away. Yet this reporter succeeds at something extraordinary. He tells the tragic story of twin girls, both survivors of incest, with their names and photos attached. In doing so, the story succeeds at helping readers better understand the humanity of this crime. Moreover, it led to other victims stepping forward, and the twins themselves became national advocates, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Honorable Mention: “Growing Up Indian,” Steve Young and Devin Wagner, Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
The Indian reservations of South Dakota are a day’s drive from Sioux Falls, but they seem worlds away to readers. Reporter Steve Young and photographer Devin Wagner remove that distance by taking readers inside the reservations, chronicling stories of hope and despair in ways too personal for readers to ignore or dismiss. They did all of this amid staff reductions — at a newspaper with a staff of just nine reporters — over the course of many months.

SINGLE ARTICLE: Over 200,000 circulation
WINNER: “People Need to Know What These Guys Have Done,” The Boston Globe, Jenifer B. McKim and Mark Pothier
Child prostitution is a very real, urban issue that most overlook because they can, but McKim takes the time to see it, understand it and reveal its underbelly. She studied court records, talked with federal and local law enforcement and gained the trust of “Jessica,” a young woman who took on her seeming protectors-turned-tormentors in court. Jessica’s story could have been one of victimization, but in the reporter’s hands, it becomes one of realistic triumph and taking back control. McKim’s eye-opening story is an unsentimental cautionary tale for would-be runaways and, at the same time, a hopeful story for those already on the streets.

Runner-up: “Two Lives Lost, A Third Forever Changed,” The Seattle Times, Sonia Krishnan, Beth Kaiman
This story shows incredible reporter initiative and was movingly, masterfully told. In depth without being prying, the subjects and sources are treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity. The report delves deeply into the life of a teenager who has dealt with tragedy and reveals that family love and support can do wonders in helping to withstand it.

Honorable mention: “Teen Struggles in a Broken System,” The Dallas Morning News, Kim Horner and Eric Nelson
Kim Horner highlights the risks of untreated and undertreated mental illness in young adults. Horner spent seven months getting to know a couple struggling to help their mentally disabled grandson using their story to highlight a senseless state system that throws money away on superficial solutions.

SINGLE ARTICLE: Under 200,000 circulation

WINNER (tie): “Sex Offender, Other Felons Ran Camps for Homeless Kids,” The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, Michael LaForgia and Rick Christie
A tip led reporter Michael LaForgia to a far bigger story — about systemic failures in Florida to protect children who attend summer camps. During months of reporting, he discovered that anyone — even a convicted child molester — could run a summer camp in the state of Florida. And they were. After building his own database of cobbled-together records, LaForgia found a camp operator who had been convicted of molesting a 6-year-old girl. He also found a con man and a crack dealer among those trusted to watch over children. His work led lawmakers to close the loophole that enabled these people to operate camps.

WINNER (tie): “Coming Clean,” Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, Joan Garrett and J. Todd Foster
What distinguishes this story of recovery is the merciful lack of a tidy ending. Joan Garrett’s intimate portrait of an addict struggling to reclaim some of the life she discarded doesn’t flinch from the pain of her subject or the obstacles she still faces, and it leaves the last word to the person most affected – the subject’s young son.

No Runner-up

No Honorable Mention

WINNER (tie): “A Father’s Fight,” The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), Issac Bailey and Carolyn Murray
The series explores the challenges of interstate child protection cases through the lens of one person’s difficult, but ultimately successful, quest to get his daughter back home. Bailey takes a careful, respectful approach to Johnny Smith’s family in a challenging atmosphere, yet doesn’t downplay the criticisms of Smith’s home by New York child protective officials. He charts this case every step of the way, leaving no question unasked – or unanswered. In the wake of Bailey’s series, Johnny Smith was granted custody of his daughter, and in late May, Bailey wrote in a follow-up column that the South Carolina Department of Social Services has revamped how it will handle the federal law in the future.

WINNER (tie): “Windows onto the Recession’s Effect on Families,” Chicago News Cooperative, James Warren
James Warren masterfully flexes his journalistic muscles, old-school style, in his Chicago News Cooperative columns on the effects of the recession on families. His work is heavily reported, sprinkling in quotes and first-person observation with the depressing facts of economic hardship. While his columns don’t result in tidy solutions — even the most well-meaning policymaker is not going to immediately end the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression — readers come away better informed about the real-life struggles taking place every day on the social services front.
In Blue Island Office, Seeing Recession’s Toll
With Insurance Comes a New Need: More primary-care doctors
Finding Hope and Family in the Discipline of Hip-Hop
Taking a Look at Poverty From an Affluent Suburb

No Runner-up

Honorable mention: “Opinion Articles,” Women’s eNews and Women’s Review of Books, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett
The authors are academics, but there’s nothing pedantic about this frank, no-nonsense appraisal of an oft-repeated fallacy about single-sex education. All four entries tackle distinct themes, but the common thread is debunking gender stereotypes that are harmful to boys as well as girls.
Single-Sex Ed Based on Baloney Science
Don’t Read Too Much into Boys’ Verbal Scores
Left Behind? Actually, More Boys Take ‘Gifted’ Test

“Biology Equals Destiny?” (Print Only)

WINNER: “Children of the Exodus,” The Texas Observer, Melissa del Bosque, Eugenio del Bosque, Michael May and Bob Moser
This important story is the result of unusual initiative, determination and bravery on the part of a journalist. Most Americans probably don’t know that their government deports tens of thousands of unaccompanied Mexican children each year, and even fewer know what happens when those children reach Mexico. The Texas Observer traces the path of deported children to dangerous Mexican border cities, finding that many of them end up in the streets. Others try to reunite with their parents by attempting the hazardous and illegal border crossing, and some are even kidnapped and held for ransom. By taking readers on the hunt through first-person accounts of what she sees and hears, the writer enables us to feel the atmosphere of fear, incompetence, desperation and duplicity.

Runner-up: “The Creativity Crisis,” Newsweek, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman delve into academic research to address how schools devote curriculum to improving the minds, souls and creative spirits of young people. Until the authors decided to explore this research, it was mostly inaccessible to the masses. “The Creativity Crisis” could be one of those policy pebbles, now tossed into the pond, that has the potential to make a major and important ripple. Ultimately it could change the conversation about how children are educated and the many tools they need to fulfill their full human potential.

Honorable mention: “Hype or Hope in Harlem,” City Limits (N.Y.), Helen Zelon and Jarrett Murphy
This story fulfills one of the most crucial roles in journalism: To look behind the curtain of the hot movement of the day and poke around to see if the hype is justified. While reporters and public officials nationwide have gushed over the Harlem Children’s Zone as the answer to lifting children in impoverished neighborhoods to educational and career success, this story devotes the time, space and intellectual capital to examine if and how HCZ works, and whether the model is replicable. The reporter weaves in-site visits and interviews with unusually sophisticated analysis of data and important context about similar efforts. The result is a thorough and fair assessment that delivers the heft of a report and the readability of a well-written story.

WINNER: “Money and Influence Peddling at the Vatican,” National Catholic Reporter, Jason Berry
This report provides exceptional insight into the cloistered world of the Roman Catholic Church during the sexual abuse scandal. Jason Berry shows how one priest, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, and his largesse, slowed or halted investigations into his abuse of boys over a period of decades. And Berry holds specific individuals to account for their failure to act, which is impressive, given how secretive the church is. The level of detail Berry provides is a credit to his tenacity, his knowledge of the subject and the quality of his sources. This story gives fresh evidence that the scandal was covered up at high levels of the church, and in some cases, in exchange for money. Some stories need to be told no matter how long it takes. This is one of them.
Money Paved Way for Maciel’s Influence in the Vatican
How Fr. Maciel Built his Empire” 

Runner-up: “Black Lung Lofts and Other Stories: A feature portfolio,” LA Weekly, Patrick Range McDonald and Drex Heikes
Black Lung Lofts
Educating Maria
City of Airheads
California’s Parent Trigger
McDonald’s series of stories on schools, libraries and air pollution in Los Angeles are not directly connected, but provide an intriguing and occasionally alarming tapestry of the public policy decisions that have intended and unintended effects on the lives of the city’s children. As a group, these stories are very impressive, and reflect inventive and aggressive reporting, well executed.

Honorable mention: “Spreading Her Wings,” Westword, Patricia Calhoun
This piece tells a story that sounds unbelievable in a compelling way that made you want to look more deeply into child protective services across the country. In addition, the story got results: The Denver Department of Human Services canceled the $5,000 foster care bill it had been trying to collect from Kristen Stillman for her four children, the products of a man who raped her as a child.

WINNER: “Caught in the Crossfire: Victims of gang violence,” Los Angeles Times, Barbara Davidson, Mary Cooney and Jeremiah Bogart
This powerful portrait of the tragic effects of gang violence demonstrates a strong commitment to the people in this story on the part of the photographer and the publication. It takes enormous time and effort to gain this degree of understanding and trust of the people covered. This body of work meets the truest and highest purposes of the profession — to give a strong and clear voice to those who are suffering. Davidson’s photos are intimate and shocking; they take us far beyond the daily crime stories into a world where being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be fatal.

Runner-up: I Am Sam: A year of innocence and anguish at Sam Houston High School,” San Antonio Express-News,  Lisa Krantz, Luis Rios and Anita Baca
Lisa Krantz’s documentation of an inner-city high school in “I Am Sam” is terrific — peak moment after moment, covering the gamut of emotions, photographed skillfully in wonderful light. The work allows viewers to feel as if they’d been admitted into the unifying circle of the school community, as these young people experienced birth and death, success and failure, joy and sorrow, all the travails of life.

Honorable mention: “Jack’s Journey,” The Seattle Times, Ericka Schultz 
A very simple story, clearly told in a tight edit of sensitive photographs. The photographer creates a warm, intimate document of two people in a very difficult situation: homelessness. That closeness allows readers to empathize and to consider what they themselves might do in those circumstances. When readers feel this, they tend to speak up, prompting the community to come together and help.

WINNER: Invisible Families,” The Seattle Times, Mark Higgins, Nina Pardo, Danny Gawlowski and Kathy Best
The project, packaged in an easily navigable Web presentation, is filled with beautifully told stories in text, video and photos of an important topic: the day-to-day challenges facing homeless families. The five-month investigation found an overwhelmed social service network and families living in trucks and bouncing between friends’ homes and run-down motels. The videos of the homeless mothers, fathers and children telling their stories were extremely moving — and eye-opening. The voice and story of the teenage homeless boy and his single mother – and their quiet dignity – is hard to forget. The outpouring of comments and offers of help from businesses and individuals revealed the nerves the stories touched in the community.

Runner-up: “The Home Front,” The New York Times, James Dao, Catrin Einhorn and Damon Winter
The finely reported and written narratives — in text, video and photos — captured many intimate and heartbreaking family moments during Sgt. Brian Eisch’s deployment and documented the huge strain a single parent’s assignment in a war zone has on the children and other family members left behind. The photos and video shot during Eisch’s visit home underscored the great access the reporter and photographer had with the family; the children’s voices and faces are a roadmap of heartache. Also impressive were the 262 comments the stories spawned.

Honorable mention (tie): “Hooked: One addict’s story,” Anchorage (Ala.) Daily News, Marc Lester and Julia O’Malley
This presentation details how difficult it is to get a life that has been derailed by heroin back on track. Most impressive were the reported blog and the four audio-slideshows of Kristin Alexander telling her story.

Honorable mention (tie): “Home or Nursing Home: America’s empty promise to give the elderly and disabled a choice,” NPR, Joseph Shapiro, Susanne Reber, Steven Drummond, Robert Benincasa, John Poole, Andrew Prince, Alicia Cypress and Becky Lettenberger

Combines great audio stories with text, some photos and a database detailing independence levels of people living in nursing homes. A great resource for families grappling with elderly members and others needing daily assistance.

WINNER: “Youth Series,” Minnesota Public Radio, Sasha Aslanian, Bill Wareham, Julie Siple, Brenda (last name withheld), Roy Lee Spearman Jones, Mara Fink, Tiara Bellaphant, Antonio Gonzalez, Iman Fears
The chance to slip into the lives of young people whom the majority of listeners might never have encountered otherwise is so powerful and important. Most impressive was the honest, well-thought-out manner in which each of the six youth reporters in this series told their stories. Some of those stories were heart-breaking: Brenda’s experience as an undocumented 19-year-old fearing her family could be separated; Roy Lee Spearman Jones’ account of leaving home and sleeping behind trash cans because he is gay; and Antonio Gonzalez’s portrait of six children grieving after their mother’s sudden and mysterious death. If what we do is about helping each other understand each other, then this is as good as it gets.

Runner-up: “American Dreamer: Sam’s story,” Long Haul Productions, Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister
A moving, beautifully produced, sound-rich story about how undocumented students raised in the U.S. are left in limbo when they graduate from high school and want to go to college. The piece uniquely focuses on one student and his music, weaving the sounds of jazz into the tale in a way that a traditional news story couldn’t. Rather than pushing a political point of view, this story simply informs listeners about the struggle that one teen had to go through to try and achieve his dream.

Honorable mention: “Testing Teachers,” American RadioWorks, Emily Hanford and Catherine Winter
The piece is an extremely balanced, well-documented examination of teacher quality and ways it could be improved. Rather than take one position — such as the union’s or the administration’s — the documentary team dives into the deeper issues and explores why teacher quality has become such an important issue and how teachers can learn to improve their classroom performance.

WINNER: “Haywire,” ABC News 20/20, David Sloan, Jay Schadler, Jessica Velmans, Claire Weinraub, Elissa C. Stohler, Lisa Soloway, Kelsey Myers, Helaine Tabacoff, Tracie Hunt, Sam Painter, Erin Laurence, Ruth Iwano, Tom Marcyes and Joe Schanzer
ABC’s effort took a unique look at a problem that would make any parent shudder. But more remarkable than the crew’s ability to explain childhood schizophrenia was its ability to gain the confidence of these families, who became willing to share their most intimate moments — moments often filled with desperation. The team deserves special recognition for the trust it was able to cultivate from these struggling mothers, fathers and children. That trust enabled the viewer to get an extraordinary look at mental disease that clearly has no obvious cure.

Runner-up: “America Now: Children of the harvest,” Dateline NBC, Rayner Ramirez, Dennis Murphy, Allan Maraynes, Nicholas Capote, Leonor Ayala, Rich Lynch, Beth Lobel, David McCormick and Laurence Juber
The effort to produce this program was exemplary. The team from NBC News Dateline not only tracks migrant families it covered 10 years ago, but uncovers a unique will to succeed among some of those in America who face the longest odds. By crisscrossing the country, the journalists uncover a plight that still exists today, despite assurances from federal officials more than a decade ago that enforcement of child labor laws was improving. This team did its best to hold many of those responsible, accountable.

Honorable mention: “A Stand for Hope: The Alex Scott story,” CBS 3 (Philadelphia), Pat Ciarrocchi, Jonelle Fabian, Mike Henry, Rich Edwards

The production value was excellent and although it was a familiar tale – finding a cure for cancer through the fundraising and inspiration of Alex Scott’s Lemonade Stand Foundation — this version was fresh, well told and very uplifting.

WINNER: “Big Problem, Low Priority,” KCTV5-TV (Kansas City, Mo.), Dana Wright, Ken Ullery and Chris Henao
The “Big Problem” series powerfully illuminates the plight of homeless children in one county beset by a long list of social ills. The stories were engaging, even shocking: The average age of homeless children there is 7, poor students are taxied long distances to school. Moreover, there was nothing gimmicky about the reporting or the production values. Today, that fact alone qualifies as a “fresh take.”

Runner-up: “How the SEED School is Changing Lives,” CBS News 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Claudia Weinstein, Byron Pitts, Ruth Streeter, Jonathan Schienberg, Joseph Murania, Gregory Andracke, Sean Healey, Bert Canaie, Everett Wong, Jay-Me Brown and Aaron Weisz
CBS News takes us on a tremendously well-produced tour of something in education that’s working, and could serve as a model in other parts of the country. Reporter Byron Pitts shows the conviction of those providing this unique education and the sheer willpower of the children who know they have been given a tremendous opportunity to succeed.

Honorable mention: “Families Battle Obesity in Mississippi,” PBS NewsHour, Betty Ann Bowser, Bridget DeSimone and Lea Winerman
The two-part series demonstrates a very solid if, not masterful, example of enterprising journalism. PBS NewsHour travels to Mississippi to demonstrate graphically two problems–a fatty everyday diet and a distinct preference for fatty foods–that help drive the obesity crisis. The level of fact-finding is obvious and the level of reporting is high.
Mississippi Wages Fried Food Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Mississippi ‘Food Deserts’ Fuel Obesity Epidemic

The judges for this year’s awards were: Kelley Benham, enterprise editor, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; Jenni Bergal, former supervising senior editor, NPR; Karina Bland, columnist and reporter, The Arizona Republic; Patrick Boyle, communications director, Forum for Youth Investment; Jennifer Dorroh, director, IJNet, International Center for Journalists; Beth Frerking, assistant managing editor, Politico; Dave Hage, health editor, Minneapolis Star Tribune; Chris Harvey, multimedia bureau director, director of internships and career development, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Natalie Hopkinson, media and culture critic, The Root; Boyzell Hosey, director of photography, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; Peter Jensen, writer, editorial, The Baltimore Sun; Michael King, news editor, The Austin Chronicle; Mark Lodato, assistant dean and news director, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University; Rafael Lorente, Annapolis bureau director, Capital News Service, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Mary Beth Marsden, broadcast journalist, former anchor, WMAR-TV Baltimore; Mary McCarty, columnist and reporter, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News; Dale Mezzacappa, contributing editor, Philadelphia Public School Network; Blake Morrison, investigations editor, USA Today; John Nicholson, professor, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University; Gary O’Brien, photographer; Nancy Robertson, producer, The Diane Rehm Show, WAMU/NPR; April Saul, photographer, The Philadelphia Inquirer; Mosi Secret, reporter, The New York Times; Matt Sheehan, 21st Century News Lab director, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida; Lee Thornton, professor, interim associate provost for equity and diversity, University of Maryland; Michael Williamson, photographer, The Washington Post


In 2009, America’s Promise Alliance joined with the Journalism Center on Children & Families to launch its first annual journalism awards for excellence in coverage of youth issues. The America’s Promise Journalism Awards honor journalists whose work helped raise national awareness about the needs of the young and inspire communities to put the needs of children and youth first.

The Alliance’s distinguished panel of judges selects one award recipient from the Casey Medal winners in each of two categories: Awareness and Action. Awareness entries are judged on whether the submission provided a fresh take on an existing issue, or highlighted a topic little-known to readers. The Action Award is given to a piece that inspired action on behalf of young people that led directly to community-wide change. Each recipient receives a $5,000 honorarium from the Alliance in addition to receiving the Casey medal. Winners are announced at the awards dinner in October.

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