MJC hosts international journalist programs and names Premack Award winners
by Sarah Saubert
MJC hosts World Press Institute and Edward R. Murrow Program journalists
This past fall, the Minnesota Journalism Center and School of Journalism & Mass Communication hosted two sets of international journalists as part of the World Press Institute fellowship program and U.S. Department of State's Edward R. Murrow Program for visiting journalists.
Nine World Press Institute fellows spent a total of four weeks in Minneapolis, from Aug. 16 to Sept. 6 and Oct. 4 to 11. The journalists' topics of study were the U.S. presidential election, health care, immigration and the economy, and workshops were held in the Murphy Hall Conference Center. Their visit coincided with the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and fellowship coordinators obtained media passes for the visitors to attend the convention and report back home from the scene. They were in the arena for speeches by presidential candidate John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and were thrilled with the opportunity to attend the convention and see part of the American political process firsthand. During the weeks between their two stays in Minnesota, they visited New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles to study different aspects of the American media. The journalists hailed from China, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, India, Brazil, Bosnia, Hungary and Lithuania.
The MJC hosted eight journalists from East Asia and the Pacific Rim Oct. 10-15, as part of the U.S. Department of State's Edward R. Murrow Program. The Murrow program is an innovative public-private partnership among the Department of State, the Aspen Institute and 10 leading U.S. schools of journalism. The SJMC and the Minnesota International Center designed a special agenda for the group's week-long visit, including seminars led by SJMC faculty on investigative and in-depth reporting methods, economic reporting, and topics of interest to the journalists such as U.S. foreign policy, disaster relief and election coverage. The group also met with Joel Kramer, editor and CEO of MinnPost.com, and participated in a roundtable discussion about U.S. and home country media practices with local journalists. During the visitors' stay, both John McCain and Michelle Obama made campaign stops and appeared at rallies in Minnesota. SJMC and State Department staff were able to obtain press passes for the visitors to attend both events, and the journalists cited their participation in these as the highlights of their visit.
Premack Awards go digital, see increased entries from Greater Minnesota
The 32nd annual Premack Awards competition went completely online for the first time in the awards' history. In the past, entrants made multiple copies of their submissions to mail to the MJC for dissemination to the judges. This process proved to be a drain on time and energy as well as the environment. The new format allowed entrants to fill out an entry form online, attach a PDF or URL to their submissions, and click "send." The judges were able to access the entries in an online database, which proved to be much more reliable and practical than mailing print copies and also allowed the public to see the work submitted. The expedited process made it possible for many Greater Minnesota newspapers to enter the awards program for the first time.
Started after the death in 1975 of Frank Premack, a reporter and editor at the former 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.
Winners honored at the Premack Awards ceremony, held at the McNamara Alumni Center on April 20, included MinnPost.com, the Bemidji Pioneer, the Pioneer Press, the (Rochester) Post-Bulletin, the Star Tribune and the Morrison County Record. The Premack board honored Brad Swenson of the Bemidji Pioneer with the Graven Award, given each year to a member of the journalism community whose contribution to excellence in the journalism profession has deserved special recognition. Joel Kramer and MinnPost.com were awarded the Farr Award, an honor the Premack board bestows on occasions when a member of the community has made an exceptional contribution to public affairs journalism.
Kramer delivered the keynote speech, which addressed the theme of this year's program, "Living up to the watch-dog role: the media and community institutions." Following the address, the award winners answered questions from the audience.
MinnPost.com and Jay Weiner received the award for excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs for their reporting on the Coleman-Franken Senate contest recount published Nov. 13- Dec. 20, 2008. In his writing, Weiner merged solid, traditional reporting skills with insightful and entertaining nontraditional storytelling. Premack judges said: "MinnPost was able to breathe life into a process that moves at a glacial pace and thus keep readers interested in a story of great political importance."
The Bemidji Pioneer and political editor Brad Swenson won the George S. Hage Award for excellence in coverage of breaking news in Greater Minnesota for "Help for Cattle Farms" and "Peterson: Implementing Farm Bill is Next Step" published Aug. 17, 2008. The two-part article featured a rare interview with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, who played a key role in drafting the next five-year farm bill and bringing aid to farms fighting bovine tuberculosis. Premack judges felt that Swenson's story demonstrated timeliness and impact, and was a smart use of a large amount of information gathered on deadline. The article was especially relevant because it contained candid comments from a national policy-maker who rarely talks in-depth with the media.
The Pioneer Press and reporters Jeremy Olson and Paul Tosto were honored with the investigative or analytical reporting award for excellence for their series "The Death of Subject 13," published May 18, 19 and 20, 2008. In this piece, Olson and Tosto reported for the first time on the death of schizophrenia patient Dan Markingson and the resulting lawsuit and probes. In the process, they pulled back the curtain on the rarely viewed world of industry-funded clinical research and the financial incentives that can compromise a doctor's decision making. In this category, Premack judges said: "Through the eyes of one patient, this story shed considerable light on the complicated and competing interests between the development and path to market of new drugs, funding needs of the University and the integrity of medical research."
The Post-Bulletin and Jeff Hansel received the award for excellence in investigative or analytical reporting in Greater Minnesota for "Mystery Illness," published on March 29, 2008. In this story, Hansel described a debilitating neurological illness that was striking workers in a hog processing plant in Austin, Minn. Judges in this category were impressed to see a project that put a system under a microscope and had the potential to calm an unsettled community and demystify a complex health issue.
The Star Tribune and Jill Barcum won the award for excellence in opinion journalism for "Resolution Needed in AG Controversy," published on March 23, 2008. The editorial expressed the view that a nonpartisan inquiry should probe ethics allegations in the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. Judges said the editorial was well-researched and offered thoughtful recommendations that led to action.
The Morrison County Record and Tom West received the award for excellence in opinion journalism in Greater Minnesota for "Every County Resident Should Be Saddened by Tuesday's Events," published June 29, 2008. In this piece, West discussed Gordon Wheeler's hearing against the county board. He stated that all citizens have the right to challenge our elected government officials and court system, and that we should collectively be upset when this basic liberty is unjustly dismissed in an unfair hearing. Premack judges praised West's work, saying, "This article exposes deep, thoughtful and compelling issues that are relevant, timely and essential. West took a local tragedy and made the reader think about the issue in a larger context."