Associated Press wins University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s
17th annual Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism


Hannah Dreier

Hannah Dreier

Eugene, Ore. — Associated Press reporter Hannah Dreier and her editors are the winners of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s 17th annual Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for “A Child’s Scraped Knee,” one part of the AP’s “Venezuela Undone” series.

A hallmark of excellence in journalism ethics, the annual Ancil Payne Award recognizes and rewards journalists and news organizations that demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to ethical decision-making and conduct, even when faced with economic, personal or political pressure.

“There has never been a more important time to celebrate journalists who serve the public interest,” said Tim Gleason, director of the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and a professor of journalism at the UO SOJC. “Journalists and a free press are essential to a functioning democratic society. The Payne Award celebrates the long tradition of journalists who serve the public interest as well as the example they set for future generations.”

This year’s award selection committee considered work published in 2016 by 29 nominees.

“The Payne Award judges were deeply impressed with the quality and integrity of this year’s nominees,” Gleason said. “The journalists did extraordinary work shining light on topics ranging from a state’s response to teen suicide and the Dakota Pipeline protests to Russia’s influence on the Trump campaign and gun violence in urban centers. The common element was a commitment to serving the public interest and to fact-based, ethical journalism.”

Dreier and her editors rose to the top of the exceptionally strong pool of nominees because of their responses to the host of challenging ethical decisions they faced while producing journalism that made a difference. In “A Child’s Scraped Knee,” Dreier told the story of Venezuela’s crumbling medical system through the prism of one child’s life-or-death struggle. During the course of planning and reporting the story, she and her editors continually balanced the wellbeing of her subjects against her journalistic imperative to stay uninvolved. When considering such difficult questions as whether to supply life-saving medicine, or whether to put sources at risk in an environment that does not allow media, the AP team made careful decisions to uphold the integrity of the journalism while protecting sources and responding to subjects’ needs.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to distinguish between your role as a reporter and your role as a human being,” said Payne Award judge and 2014 Payne Award winner Bob Ortega, a senior reporter who covers the child welfare system for the Arizona Republic. “It is clear that Hannah and the people she was working with thought very hard to decide: What do we do here? Is there a point at which we say, ‘I’ll just go buy the drugs myself?’”

“They thought about all the right things,” said Karen Miller Pensiero, Payne Award judge and editor of newsroom standards for The Wall Street Journal. “They really showed a commitment to thinking about the various ethical challenges they were possibly going to face when they reported this.”

The judges agreed that, in addition to Dreier’s award-winning piece, two other nominees stood out as finalists for the award: Shane Bauer’s undercover work for Mother Jones and Anne Galloway’s series of articles in VTDigger.

Bauer took a job as a prison guard to report on the conditions inside a private prison in “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.” As a result of the risks he took and the time he put in, Mother Jones published a compelling 35,000-word story that ultimately contributed to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to stop contracting with private prisons.

“If he just dug up the information from disgruntled employees, he could have still put a story together,” said judge Tom Bivins, John L. Hulteng Chair in Media Ethics and Responsibility at the UO SOJC. “But as everybody knows, just giving people information isn’t always enough. You have to get their attention first. The story carries a lot more impact in this form.”

Galloway, a reporter for the Vermont-based news website VTDigger, uncovered fraud and misuse of funds in a major government-backed resort project in an economically depressed part of the state. Despite intense pressure from business, government and the community, Galloway and her small publication ran 150 stories about the Jay Peak Resort over two years before federal regulators finally accused the developers of misusing $200 million in investor funds.

“They had the guts to do this despite all the money and political resistance,” said Bivins. “It was an awful lot of work from a small organization with the nerve and perseverance to get something done in the face of really tough pressure.”

The UO SOJC will present the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and a $5,000 prize to Dreier and her AP editors during a ceremony on April 18 in Allen Hall at the University of Oregon. While on campus, the award winners and finalists will visit UO SOJC classes and participate in a public panel discussion about ethics in journalism.

The Payne Award Conflict of Interest Policy requires judges to declare conflicts and to recuse themselves from discussing or voting on nominees when they have a conflict of interest. In addition to Ortega, Pensiero and Bivins, the Payne Award selection committee included:

 

  • David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University
  • Therese Bottomly, director of news, The Oregonian
  • Mike Fancher, former Seattle Times executive editor
  • Brent Walth, Pulitzer Prize winner and assistant professor of journalism, University of Oregon
  • Stephen J. A. Ward, distinguished lecturer in ethics, University of British Columbia

 

About the Ancil Payne Award 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 Award for Ethics in Journalism honors 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 lifelong contributor to the arts, politics and education, helped establish KING Broadcasting’s reputation for and commitment to ethical journalism as its CEO. When he created 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.

About the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication

The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication — one of the first journalism schools in the country — is an international leader in scholarship and education in advertising, journalism, media studies and public relations. With a student enrollment of more than 2,200, the SOJC offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs that challenge students to become productive scholars, ethical communicators, critical thinkers and responsible citizens in a global society. The school fosters innovative research and prepares students and professionals to navigate the terrain of an evolving media landscape.