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Anchorage Daily News, ProPublica earn SPJ Ethics in Journalism Award


Lou Harry, SPJ Manager of Publications and Awards, 317-920-4786, lharry@spj.org
Ashlynn Neumeyer, Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4133, aneumeyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists is bestowing the 2021 Ethics in Journalism Award to the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica for the project “Unheard

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.

Anchorage Daily News partnered with ProPublica to explore the issue of sexual abuse and assault, an effort that involved talking to hundreds of sexual assault survivors to identify recurring themes and specific, systemic problems in how Alaska police, prosecutors and courts handle such cases. The stories within the project point out how Alaska’s justice system fails individual survivors and are told not through the lens of reporters but in the words and portraits of the survivors themselves.

Throughout the process of telling these stories, the outlets faced a minefield of ethical concerns. To minimize the risk of harm, the reporters ensured each survivor would only have to talk to one reporter and photographer. They considered how to handle interviews conducted by male journalists, given some women said telling their stories to male state troopers was anxiety-inducing or stifling. They made sure that survivors knew they were free to stop participating at any time for any reason; and much more. The accused were also given the opportunity to tell their side.

Even the title of the project was meant to avoid harm and shaming those survivors who were not ready to tell their stories.

All decisions for the project were guided by two principles. First, there would be no compromising the reporting standards in any way. Second, the outlets would honor the wishes of the participants without fail.

The investigation prompted the resignations of two Alaska attorneys general, inspired another survivor to tell their story and encouraged another to pursue a criminal investigation into theirs.

“The Unheard/Lawless project has been so impactful that it will be part of Alaska as one of the best services to public interest in history, and has and will set the example for us for all generations of Alaskans to follow,” one participant said. “The stories are fact-based, ethical and have been told with a heart.”

The winner will be recognized during the SPJ21 conference.

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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