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Minnesota Journalism Center Update

Minnesota's premier public affairs award competition expanded to include electronic and new media journalism.

By Jen Keavy

Premack Awards celebrate the state's best public affairs journalism

Lori Sturdevant, Jim Pumarlo, and Bill Salisbury

Premack board members Lori Sturdevant, left, and Jim Pumarlo, right, present the 2008 Graven Award to veteran political writer Bill Salisbury.

The 31st annual Frank Premack Memorial Awards Program, held on April 29, 2008, at the University's McNamara Alumni Center, celebrated work by the Star Tribune, Rushford Tri-County Record, Rochester Post-Bulletin, Minnesota Monitor and The Northeaster.

For the first time in the competition's history, all forms of media were invited to compete, reflecting the evolving media landscape. The response to the competition was unprecedented, with a record number of entries received.

Started after the death in 1975 of Frank Premack, a reporter and editor at the then-Minneapolis Tribune, the competition celebrates the best public affairs reporting in Minnesota and is one of the state's most coveted and celebrated journalism honors. Entries are judged by a panel of citizens representing the Minnesota community and public life in the arts, education, journalism, law and politics.

The Star Tribune and staff reporters were the winners of the metro breaking news category award for comprehensive coverage of the I-35W bridge collapse--reporting on the cause of the collapse and its aftermath, with the accompanying multimedia elements, all of which provided the most complete coverage of the event. Judges in this category said: "This entry was a model of comprehensive coverage. We were impressed by the breadth and depth of the information that was compiled in such a short period of time--some compiled just hours following the bridge collapse."

The Rushford Tri-County Record and staff reporters Ron Witt, Diane Luhmann, Beth Nelson, Darlene Schober and Myron Schober were winners of the George S. Hage Award for excellence in coverage of greater Minnesota breaking news for "The Flood of 2007." This series of articles was published in the first four weeks following the flood in Rushford, when the newspaper was without a newsroom. Judges praised the staff for their extraordinary efforts, which served as a catalyst to move public policy when state lawmakers met in a special session and approved relief funds following the paper's reports.

The Star Tribune and reporter David Schaffer were honored for excellence in investigative or analytical reporting about public affairs (seven-county metro) for "The Longest Cleanup." In this piece, Schaffer uncovered numerous hidden pockets of contaminated water in Twin Cities communities. The story illustrated that groundwater contamination isn't treated as a whole issue, but rather as a string of isolated problems. Judges in this category lauded the piece for its human interest approach and accuracy.

The Post-Bulletin and reporters Christina Killion Valdez, Jim Troyer, Jeff Kiger, Amy Liebl and Jay Furst received the award for investigative or analytical reporting (greater Minnesota) for "Broken Border." In this special edition, staff wrote multiple stories looking at many issues related to immigration. Judges remarked: "The story humanized the immigration debate and provided complete coverage for the Rochester community. The reporters wonderfully weaved personal stories with demographics and other statistical information."

Blogger Paul Schmelzer and the online publication Minnesota Monitor made Premack history with the award for excellence in opinion journalism (seven-county metro). In "Who Owns the J-Word? Videoblogger's Jailing Raises Questions for Journalists," Schmelzer discussed the jailing of a freelance videographer and blogger who refused to hand over footage of a protest, citing the "shield law" for journalists. Judges applauded the article for the questions it raised about the future of journalism and redefining who journalists are.

The Northeaster and Kerry Ashmore won the award for excellence in opinion journalism (greater Minnesota) for "The So-Called 'Debate' Over Immigration," which discussed the history of immigration in the United States and how politicians deal with immigration. Premack judges in this category said: "This piece had a strong argument and challenged conventional wisdom and opinions. It gave respectful treatment to a controversial issue."

Veteran political writer Bill Salisbury received the 2008 Graven Award. A senior member of the Minnesota Capitol Press Corps, Salisbury was honored for his consistent, accurate, thorough and tenacious reporting for the Pioneer Press. Named after David L. Graven, a close friend of Frank Premack and a Premack board member until his death in 1991, the award is presented annually to a member of the journalistic community whose contribution to excellence in the journalism profession has deserved special recognition.

Read this year's winning articles at http://www.mjc.umn.edu/premack2008/.

"New Pamphleteers, New Reporters" conference brings more than 100 news bloggers to campus

Timed to coincide with the National Conference on Media Reform in early June, Journalism That Matters and the Minnesota Journalism Center teamed up to bring more than 100 online citizen journalists and entrepreneurs from around the nation to the University of Minnesota for one of the first national gatherings of its kind. The three-day conference was titled "New Pamphleteers, New Reporters."

Online citizen journalists, or "placebloggers" as they are sometimes called, have changed the media landscape and the news business. As the founders of the Journalism That Matters program explain, "America's new online citizen journalists are inventing a new business and a new passion--the business of building local, literate, digital domains on the Web where community and commerce flourish."

Designed for current and prospective journalists and entrepreneurs, the conference, held June 4-6, 2008, included workshops on the legal, business, journalistic, marketing, advertising and social aspects of starting and running a local online news and commerce community. Participants also assembled for breakout sessions and roundtable discussions on topics such as defining citizen journalism; technology choices; advertising, sponsorships and grants; citizen media and the law; training bloggers, writers and volunteers; business practices; aligning with other media or groups; how to engage citizens and keep the passion alive for placeblogging.

Session highlights included MinnPost editor Joel Kramer's conversation about changing roles in the emerging news ecology and pioneering political blogger John Nichols' discussion about setting the civic agenda.

The event concluded with Minnesota Public Radio's taped discussion with
20 local placebloggers, which will be broadcast at a future date. The group discussed the motivations, passions, fears and successes of local online news and community entrepreneurs.

MJC co-sponsors obesity coverage workshop for journalists

Did you know that one in every two American Indian babies will develop type 2 diabetes and more than 9 million U.S. children are considered obese? Experts predict that the obesity epidemic could result in today's children having a shorter lifespan than their parents, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

Children in communities of color are disproportionately affected by the obesity crisis. Covering the obesity epidemic in communities of color was the focus of a workshop co-hosted by the Minnesota Journalism Center, the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, the School of Public Health, and the Children, Youth and Family Consortium. The workshop, held on March 26, 2008, provided reporters, editors and producers from the health, community, diversity and policy beats with insights into how to cover one of the most important issues facing communities of color.

WCCO-TV anchor Angela Davis moderated a panel of community nutrition and health practitioners. Treacy Funk, a physical education teacher at St. Paul Central High School; Velma Harris, a nutrition education expert at the University Extension Service; and Laverne Wesley, a fourth grade teacher at Woodson Institute for Student Excellence, a Minneapolis charter school, discussed their own firsthand observations and trends regarding obesity in their communities.

John Finnegan Jr., professor and dean, School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health; Martha Kubik, assistant professor, School of Nursing; and Mary Story, professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health, presented their own research on how community professionals are working to address the epidemic.

Workshop participants included journalists from Latino Midwest News, Mshale Newspaper, Asian American Press, Insight News, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, KMSP Fox 9 News, Access Press and Minnesota Medicine.