Tough Calls, Celebrated
The Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism, established in 1999 by Seattle broadcasting legend Ancil Payne, celebrates the tough decisions made in the newsroom and in the field—decisions that make a difference in the community but are often invisible to the public. The $10,000 annual prize rewards media organizations and journalists who report with integrity despite personal, political, or economic pressure.
2021 Winners: Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault and child sex abuse in the United States. Yet for generations it has been an unspoken epidemic.
In 2018, the Anchorage Daily News asked readers if they would be willing to share their stories of sexual violence to help determine why sexual assault and murder cases appeared to be getting worse and where the failure points exist within the criminal justice system. More than 200 people responded. The newspaper partnered with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network to publish “Unheard,” a compilation of 29 stories from women and men who shared their experiences with sexual assault.
Nominations were incredibly strong, and the selection committee recognized three finalists for the 2021 Ancil Payne Award:
Amy Brittain, Reena Flores, and Bishop Sand from the Washington Post were nominated for their seven-part podcast, “Canary: The Washington Post Investigates.” The podcast explores the decisions of two women to share their accounts of sexual assault—and the spiraling consequences of those choices. ”Canary” reveals systemic problems within the criminal justice system that illustrate how difficult it is for survivors to feel any sense of justice.
Mississippi Free Press reporters Ashton Pittman and Donna Ladd were nominated for “‘The Fabric is Torn in Oxford’: UM Officials Decried Racism Publicly, Coddled it Privately.” Their investigation revealed how wealthy donors influenced University of Mississippi officials to discourage diversity in an effort to preserve the “Ole Miss” of the past. The report, based on thousands of documents obtained from whistleblowers, kicked off what sources called “a witch hunt” as university officials attempted to identify the whistleblowers.
Margie Mason and Robin McDowell from the Associated Press—winners of the 2016 Payne Award—spent over two years producing “Fruits of Labor,” an investigation uncovering labor abuses in the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. The reporters interviewed more than 130 workers, going to great lengths to conceal their identities. They found child labor, human trafficking, slavery, and rape in the fields, and they traced connections to some of the world’s biggest companies.
In early 2019, Injustice Watch journalists Emily Hoerner and Rick Tulsky published “In Plain View,” an exposé of racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and violent social media content posted by more than 2,000 police officers around the nation. Despite the threat of a lawsuit that could shut down the small media outlet, Injustice Watch prioritized the public’s right to know the truth, earning them the 2020 Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.
Garrison Keillor produced and hosted “A Prairie Home Companion” for Minnesota Public Radio for 42 years. Then he was accused of inappropriate behavior at the height of the #MeToo movement. The MPR newsroom earned the 2019 Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for its transparent and unbiased coverage of the fall from grace of one of its network’s biggest stars.