On Thursday, April 28, the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) celebrated the 16th annual Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. Established in 1999 by broadcast legend Ancil Payne, the award celebrates journalists who use their journalistic skills to serve the public interest while making difficult ethical decisions.
One of this year’s winners is the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Martha Mendoza, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Esther Htu San, who collaborated on the Associated Press series Seafood from Slaves. In order to publish their year-long investigative piece exposing slavery and human trafficking in Thailand’s $7 billion seafood industry, the reporters risked themselves while taking extraordinary measures to protect their sources and giving all parties the opportunity to respond to accusations before publishing.
The second Payne Award went to the journalists of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, including Glenn Cook, James DeHaven, Eric Hartley, Jennifer Robison, John L. Smith, Howard Stutz and James G. Wright. The members of the Review-Journal’s newsroom staff risked their reputations and their jobs when they chose to investigate and report the secret sale of their newspaper despite warnings to ignore the story from their new management.
Mendoza, DeHaven, Robison, Smith, Wright and Las Vegas Review-Journal’s former editor Michael Hengel visited campus on April 28 to accept the Payne Award. The journalists visited various SOJC classes throughout the day and then sat on a panel, moderated by SOJC Professor and Payne Award Director Tim Gleason, to discuss the ethical decisions they made in the course of reporting their stories, touching on the difficulties they faced as well as the positive outcomes of their work.
During the panel, which discussed ethics in front of a full house of more than 200 SOJC students, staff and faculty, the winners stressed the important role ethics plays in journalism.
Wright emphasized that while a job is replaceable, moral decisions stay with you forever.
“Being a journalist isn’t just being employed. It’s a mindset and a personal code,” he said. “You’re a journalist first, and you’re an employee second. A journalist is who you are; it’s not what job you have.”
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do the right thing,” added Robison. “And that’s a decision that would have stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
After the panel, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Allen Hall atrium for the awards presentation and reception.
“As the home to the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism, we have the perfect opportunity to engage with journalism in a way that informs our work and teaching while also supporting and encouraging exceptional effort,” said SOJC interim Edwin L. Artzt Dean Julie Newton. “We are grateful to the Payne family for making this opportunity possible, and we are grateful to the winners for leading the way with their impeccable examples of outstanding journalism coupled with extraordinary ethical choices. This is what the SOJC stands for, and these journalists show us that it’s well worth the effort.”
Story by Nicole Rideout ’16