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INDIANAPOLIS — Karen Gadbois, a staff writer for The Lens, has received the Ethics in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for noting the New Orleans Police Department’s inconsistency in implementing an unpopular policy. The Lens is an online, investigative-news publication that covers New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas started the practice of releasing a homicide victim’s criminal records, and local groups voiced their objection, according to Jessica Williams, a Lens employee who nominated Gadbois. When Harry “Mike” Ainsworth was killed while trying to prevent a carjacking, the police did not immediately release his record. The police called Ainsworth, a 44-year-old father of two, a Good Samaritan and omitted his previous arrests for marijuana possession and LSD distribution.
Though The Lens was criticized for publishing Ainsworth’s criminal history, other news outlets credited The Lens with noting the discrepancy, as well as pointed out that Ainsworth was a white man, while most homicide victims in the area were African-American. The outlet felt it was necessary to point out the police department’s double standard, Williams said, and Serpas reversed the policy weeks later.
The SPJ Ethics Committee recommended Gadbois because her work “offered a powerful and unique perspective in upholding the highest ethical standards.” When the committee contacted Williams, she said that other journalists on staff and in the city have been inspired by Gadbois’ work.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.