Ancil Payne Award logoThe University of Oregon (UO) School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), announced the winners of the 15th annual Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. The award honors journalists and news organizations whose work and ethical decision making demonstrate courage and a commitment to the highest values of journalism.

This year, the SOJC received 29 nominations and selected three winners: the co-editors and co-managing editors of the Neshaminy High School newspaper, The Playwickian, in Langhorne, Pa.; the Chicago Tribune and reporters David Jackson, Gary Marx and Duaa Eldeib; and The Arizona Republic and journalists Daniel Gonzalez and Bob Ortega.

“It is inspiring to see the level of work and the thoughtful, careful, ethical decision making found in this year’s nominees,” says Tim Gleason, director of the Payne Award and SOJC professor. “Journalists and news organizations took on difficult and complicated stories in the face of significant pressures in their communities. Their work and actions help us see the power and the importance of maintaining the highest ethical standards.”

The Playwickian editors, Gillian McGoldrick and Reed Hennessy, and managing editors, Jackson Haines and Madison Buffardi, faced adversity at every turn when they decided to ban the high school’s mascot name, Redskins, from their 3,000-circulation monthly publication. The student journalists reached the decision after a long and careful examination of the mascot issue and a vote. Negative reaction to the decision from some in the school and the community was swift, with administrators and peers putting pressure on the paper to publish the mascot name, but the students, and newspaper adviser Tara Huber, held their ground.

The honor marks the first nomination for a high school journalist and the third year in a row that student journalists have won a Payne Award.

“The resolve these young journalists and their adviser showed, despite having a divided staff and adult and peer pressure in a high school environment, is extraordinary,” says Therese Bottomly, Payne Award judge and managing editor and director of state and enterprise for The Oregonian.

“Harsh Treatment,” a five-part series in the Chicago Tribune by reporters David Jackson, Gary Marx and Duaa Eldeib, told the story of hundreds of young Illinois state wards who were assaulted and raped while state authorities failed to act on reports of harm. The yearlong investigation used confidential documents and sensitive interviews with youths to pierce the secrecy that surrounds the most troubled facilities.

Payne judge Joann Byrd, a former Washington Post ombudsman and a retired editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, said the Tribune‘s story was one of the best examples of great journalism and careful ethical decision making that she has seen in her years on the Payne judging panel.

In “A Pipeline for Children,” the The Arizona Republic and reporters Daniel Gonzalez and Bob Ortega put faces on and told the story of the surge of children and families fleeing from Central America across the southern U.S. border in 2014. The reporters put themselves in danger along the U.S./Mexico border and in Central America to report the story and to hear the voices of the people risking their lives to cross the border. In the reporting and the editing of the story, they took great care to protect their sources and subjects from harm.

“This story involved many ethical considerations that were handled commendably and courageously by the reporters and their newspaper. Even as they put their own personal safety at risk to get the story, the journalists were careful to protect the safety of their sources, including children. They told the story straightforwardly, despite knowing that some people in their community might not want to know the complexity of the situation,” says Mike Fancher, Payne Award judge and interim executive director of the SOJC’s George S. Turnbull Portland Center/Agora Journalism Center.

“In today’s media world, journalists face unprecedented challenges to reporting what the public needs to know and to handling significant issues with sensitivity and integrity,” says Julianne Newton, interim Edwin L. Artzt Dean and SOJC professor.

“This year’s Ancil Payne Award winners exemplify courageous and ethical journalism of the highest caliber,” Newton says. “They stood up to authority in the face of political, community and personal threat, not only getting and publishing stories that matter but also demonstrating conscious ethical decision making under great pressure. It is a privilege for the SOJC to recognize the extraordinary character and inspiring commitment of these fine journalists and newspapers.”

Ancil Payne Award judges for 2014 included: Tom Bivins (UO SOJC professor and Hulteng Chair in Media Ethics); Therese Bottomly (managing editor and director of state and enterprise at The Oregonian); Joann Byrd (retired editorial page editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer); Karen Miller Pensiero (‎editor, newsroom standards, The Wall Street Journal); Julianne Newton (UO SOJC Interim Edwin L. Artzt Dean); Mark Zusman (editor, Willamette Week); Mike Fancher (interim executive director, UO SOJC George S. Turnbull Portland Center/Agora Journalism Center); Peter Bhatia (Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor in Journalism Ethics at Arizona State University); and Stephen Ward (UO SOJC courtesy professor and distinguished lecturer in ethics, University of British Columbia).

The award winners will discuss the ethical challenges behind their stories in a panel, “Profiles in Ethical Courage,” Wednesday, May 20, in Portland, Ore. The Ancil Payne Award ceremony will be held Thursday, May 21, on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, Ore.

Story by Amy Pinkston 

About the Ancil Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism

Established in 1999 at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication by Seattle broadcasting legend Ancil Payne (1921-2004), the Ancil Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism honor journalists and news organizations that demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to ethical conduct, even when faced with economic, personal, or political pressure. Ancil Payne, a leader in Northwest broadcasting and life-long contributor to the arts, politics, and education, was CEO of KING broadcasting and helped establish its reputation for and commitment to ethical journalism. In creating the award, Payne envisioned a program that would reward journalists acting with integrity and character, restore public trust in the media, and inspire people to do good work.