Wednesday, April 20 marks a celebration of journalism ethics at the University of Oregon, including the presentation of the Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism and the 2011 Ruhl Lecture with Jere Van Dyk. Listen to interviews with the 2011 Payne Awards winners and preview the event.

The 2011 Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism will be presented at 12:00 p.m. in the EMU Gumwood Room on the University of Oregon campus. A panel discussion among the winners will follow the awards ceremony and luncheon. At 4:00 p.m., author and journalist Jere Van Dyk will present the School of Journalism and Communication’s 2011 Ruhl Lecture, “Prisoner of the Taliban.”

A representative from The New York Times will accept the 2011 Payne award for the paper’s handling of controversial material released by Julian Assange on the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website in 2010, including classified government documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as U.S. State Department diplomatic cables. In making the award, the judges cited Executive Editor Bill Keller and The Times for the paper’s deliberate and thoughtful process in treating Assange as a source, rather than a partner; in maintaining the paper’s journalistic independence while consulting with the U.S. Government before publishing sensitive information; and in explaining its process to its readers.

“We cannot overestimate the political pressures from all sides,” the Payne judges’ statement said. “In certain cases, lives were at stake. The Times took the time and resources to do a magnificent job with their investigation and reporting. It would have been very easy, considering what was already being published online at that time, to take shortcuts or limit the scope. The Times made thoughtful, carefully calculated, and line-by-line decisions on what they would print and why. To take people through those leaked documents—as well as through the paper’s process in dealing with them—was not only an amazing act of public service, but a fabulous service to journalists all over the United States. Wikileaks is a harbinger of things to come, and The New York Times handled it well.”

Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Ferriday, La. will be present to receive the Payne Award for his investigation into the murder of Frank Morris, a black Ferriday businessman, in 1964. The murder had been ignored by law enforcement for more than 40 years. The Sentinel investigated the murder as well as another cold case—both allegedly the work of the Ku Klux Klan—for three years, publishing nearly 200 stories. The final story named Morris’ alleged murderer and was ready for publication in December 2010. It was held until January 12, 2011 at the request of Justice Department officials while the FBI completed interviews in its own investigations, which were officially reopened as a result of Nelson’s work. A grand jury was convened in February.

Listen as Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, discusses the process of reporting the 40-year old cold case

In making the award, the judges recognized “the huge social, economic, and political pressures on a small-town paper in the south to keep a racially motivated killing in the past. There was great personal risk—even death threats. There was no doubt a direct economic impact, both lost subscriptions and personal expense. This is as pure a definition of journalistic courage as one could craft in 2011. For Stanley Nelson to start down the tunnel and follow it for three years required a degree of ethical fortitude that is rare and should be celebrated.”

New York Times Photographer Damon Winter will receive a special citation for his work documenting the devastation and death in the aftermath of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake—a situation which NYT Lens co-editor David Dunlap described as one requiring journalists “to invent a code of ethics on the spot.” The staff of the student Yale Daily News also earned a special citation for its coverage of a Yale student’s high-profile suicide in March of 2010. Paul Needham, editor of the Yale Daily News, will attend the ceremony.

“The value of journalism is determined by the degree to which the work informs communities large and small,” said Tim Gleason, Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication. “While it’s true that technology gives all of us a platform to publish, what really defines journalism are the standards by which ethical journalists inform the public—standards such as editorial autonomy, accountability, compassion, and truth telling. This year’s Payne Award winners exemplify a passionate commitment to the journalist’s obligation to seek and report the truth.”

Van Dyk, an American journalist and author, was researching a book in Afghanistan when he was captured by the Taliban in February 2008 and spent forty-five days in captivity, an ordeal chronicled in his book Captive: Prisoner of the Taliban (Times Books: 2010). Van Dyk is the author of In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey(Cowrad McCann: 1983), an account of his travels with the mujahideen in the 1980s during their struggle against the Soviet Union. He has covered stories all over the world, mainly for The New York Times, CBS News, andNational Geographic, that have required him to visit places where few Western reporters had ventured before. Van Dyk, a 1968 University of Oregon graduate (Political Science), will discuss his ordeal during the 4:00 p.m. Ruhl Lecture.

The Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism recognize journalists who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to ethical conduct, even when faced with economic, personal or political pressure. Ancil Payne, a legend in Seattle broadcasting, established the Payne Awards at the School of Journalism and Communication in 1999 “to reward performance that inspires public trust in the media.” Payne, who died in October 2004, was former CEO of KING Broadcasting; under his leadership, the company developed a national reputation for its commitment to ethical journalism. Judges for the 2011 Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism were Professor Tom Bivins, John L. Hulteng Chair of Media Ethics, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication; Peter Bhatia, Editor, The Oregonian; David Boardman, Executive Editor, The Seattle Times; Joann Byrd, retired Editorial Page Editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Everette Dennis, Felix E. Larkin Distinguished Professor, Fordham University School of Business; Drex Heikes, Editor, LA Weekly; Peggy Kuhr, Dean, The University of Montana School of Journalism; Mark Zusman, Editor, Willamette Week; and Tim Gleason, Edwin L. Artzt Dean and Professor, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

The Robert and Mabel Ruhl Endowment, which has supported an annual Ruhl Lecture at the School of Journalism and Communication since 1974, was established by Mabel W. Ruhl, Robert’s widow, to “foster mutually beneficial contact between the School of Journalism and Communication and the mass media.” It honors Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert W. Ruhl, who was for many years one of Oregon’s most respected newspaper journalists. Ruhl, who died in 1967, was editor and publisher of the Medford Mail Tribune. He performed his duties with a high sense of responsibility to the public and with uncompromising ethics. In one instance, he wrote a series of editorials against a government reform group that was inciting unrest in the area. The paper’s editorials won the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished and meritorious public service.