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Journalists from ProPublica and The Associated Press earn SPJ Ethics in Journalism Awards


Matthew Kent, Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788, mkent@spj.org
Ashlynn Neumeyer, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4133, aneumeyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has bestowed the 2019 Ethics in Journalism Award to journalists at ProPublica, in partnership with New York magazine, and The Associated Press for extraordinary reporting on the topic of immigration and its issues.

The Ethics in Journalism Award honors journalists or news organizations that perform in an outstanding ethical manner demonstrating the ideals of the SPJ Code of Ethics.

ProPublica did exemplary work in covering the challenges faced by a young gang member who secretly became a government informant, only to face death threats and deportation after federal agents went back on their promise to protect him.

Although immigration reporter Hannah Dreier received the subject’s approval to write the story, she battled with indecision on whether it was safe to do. She took extreme consideration as she consulted with gang and law enforcement experts and his lawyer to evaluate the risks if her work became published.

Dreier went above and beyond to protect this man’s well-being and identity, despite being granted full-access to whatever information she wanted by the gang member himself. The pressure of the situation and the young man’s age led Dreier to apply further restrictions on the narrative he did not previously ask for.

The story became an extraordinary call-to-action and resulted in support from both the public and multiple government officials, putting procedures and protocols within government departments in question for future cases like this. The “Trapped in Gangland” series, from which this particular ProPublica story came, won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

The AP touched the public conscience in 2018 with their reporting on high-profile separations of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Investigative reporters Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza’s efforts led to shelter closures, investigations, congressional hearings, lawsuits and legislation.

One of their reports resulted with President Trump officially ending his administration’s policy of separating families. Another provoked officials to launch an investigation of allegations of extreme physical abuse inside a migrant teen shelter. Finally, an AP data-driven package revealed concerns about kids under government care in shelters that ignored expert warnings about these places causing life-long trauma. This led to the introduction of legislation aimed at closing two mass facilities in Texas and Florida, and after the largest was shut down, thousands of children were released to their families waiting in the U.S.

Despite government officials denying the separations, downplaying the numbers of those affected and offering scant information, Burke and Mendoza persisted with their investigations, searching for information by knocking on doors, sitting in court rooms, touring foster homes and detention facilities, speaking with parents, children, lawyers, federal officials, psychologists and much more.

They handled reporting on children delicately and responsibly, always keeping the youth’s best interests in mind. The AP and its reporters consistently showed compassion for those who might be affected by the stories and respected the wishes and rights of the children and their families.

With integrity, relentless reporting and tenacity, this AP team of journalists shook up the $1 billion child detention industry and helped bring detained children back to their families.

The winners will be recognized during the President’s Installation Banquet at the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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