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Darnella Frazier, LA Times, KC Star first recipients of SPJ Special Citation for Excellence in Journalism


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8/17/2021


CONTACT:
Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — Citizen journalist Darnella Frazier, The Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times are the first recipients of the Society of Professional Journalists Special Citation for Excellence in Journalism.

The SPJ Board of Directors created the citation to recognize an act of journalism that had a major impact on the industry and society at large.

The Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Times are being recognized for their powerful apologies regarding each newspaper’s history on race. Frazier is being recognized for her courage in filming the death of George Floyd, which may have been the single-most impactful act of journalism in 2020.

“Two of the central tenets of SPJ’s Code of Ethics are ‘seek the truth and report it’ and ‘minimize harm.’ The potential and actual conflicts that can exist in these two missions can be monumental when taking an unflinching look at our own institutions or even just recording something with a phone,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “Many outlets choose not to even undertake deeply critical self-assessments, let alone publish them. What The Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Times did with their self-assessments of institutional racism and subsequent apologies speaks volumes about how far journalism has to go and how far these two media companies have come over time.

“And Darnella Frazier’s video speaks for itself,” Hall continued. “It is the essence of citizen journalism. George Floyd changed the world, like his daughter said. Darnella Frazier did, too, in making it hard for society to look away. Our collective work documenting institutional failures, including our own, is just beginning as a society. The Star, the Times and Frazier have all shown the intestinal fortitude and sheer willpower it takes not to turn away. And for that, I’m proud to honor them.”

Like a true journalist, Frazier stepped forward into uncertainty, and potential danger, to document something the world needed to see, SPJ said in a letter notifying Frazier of the recognition.

Frazier said in a statement on Instagram on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death, “Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I'm proud of myself. If it weren't for my video, the world wouldn't have known the truth. I own that. My video didn't save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets.”

Both The Star’s and the Times’ editorials were exceptional articles in a year of intense racial reckoning in America, SPJ said in its letters to Mike Fannin, president and editor of The Star, and Sewell Chan, editorial page editor of the Times.

“We are honored and humbled by this recognition,” Fannin said. “The work to be more inclusive in our coverage continues. For other news organizations considering their own reckonings, our experience says: the past matters, truth matters and saying you’re sorry can still be meaningful.”

“We are deeply honored by this special citation from SPJ,” Chan said. “This project came about in part because courageous journalists in our newsroom insisted that we scrutinize and accept responsibility for past failings. The process was at times painful; it was also essential. The project was an important step — but just one step — on the journey to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive newsroom, one that reflects and serves all of Southern California’s communities.”

In The Star’s editorial, “The truth in Black and white: An apology from The Kansas City Star,” Fannin wrote, “The Kansas City Star prides itself on holding power to account. Today we hold up the mirror to ourselves to see the historic role we have played, through both action and inaction, in shaping and misshaping Kansas City’s landscape.”

The Times’ editorial board, in “An examination of the Times’ failures on race, our apology and a path forward,” wrote, “Newspapers are described as a first rough draft of history. But in truth, the first rough draft written by this newspaper — and those across the country — has been woefully incomplete.”

“All media organizations can learn from the examples set by The Star and the Times and that is why they are so deserving of recognition,” Hall said.

The citations will be formally presented during the SPJ President’s Awards Ceremony at the SPJ21 conference Sept. 4. The annual conference is entirely online for the second year due to the pandemic.

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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