Winners of 34th Premack Awards announced

MINNEAPOLIS (March 5, 2011) -- The winners of the 2010 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards include the Star Tribune, Twin Cities Daily Planet, St. Cloud Times and Bemidji Pioneer. Winners will be honored at the Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Program at 5 p.m. April 18 in the A.I. Johnson Room at McNamara Alumni Center, located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities campus.

The 34th annual awards program will celebrate the winning works and best practices of public affairs journalism, and also will feature the presentation of the Graven Award to Gary Eichten of Minnesota Public Radio and the Farr Award to Laura Waterman Wittstock of Wittstock and Associates, a media and education consulting firm. The winning journalists and award winners will have the opportunity to speak about their work.

The Premack award winners to be honored for work produced in 2010 are:

* Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs (larger organization): The Star Tribune and staff reporters are winners of the award for excellence in coverage of breaking news for their coverage of an apartment fire that killed six, published in April and May 2010.

Premack judges in this category said: "The reporting prompted changes in the city's safety inspection system and raised issues about training and turf battles between police and fire departments. The excellent photojournalism added to the story and helped readers understand the impact this fire had on the entire neighborhood."

* George S. Hage Award for Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs (smaller organization): The Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter Molly Priesmeyer and editor Mary Turck are the winners of the Hage Award for Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs for their story, "Who Pulled the Plug on University of Minnesota's 'Troubled Waters.'"

Premack judges in this category said: "The Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter broke a story that became a major controversy in the community. The piece pulled back the curtain on how the levels of power function and demonstrated how a single person's decision can affect an organization as large as the university."

* Excellence in investigative or analytical reporting about public affairs (larger organization): Star Tribune reporters Jim Spencer and Tom Meersman for their story, "Losing Our Lakes."

Premack judges in this category said: "We faced a difficult choice in this category because of excellent work by KSTP-TV with their "Welfare Fraud" series and the Star Tribune's "Hounded" series. We decided the award would go to "Losing Our Lakes" because the piece dealt with a complex topic from a statewide perspective. Lakes are a critical part of Minnesota's identity and brand and the degradation of our lakes is a very important public policy issue."

* Excellence in investigative or analytical reporting about public affairs (Smaller organization): St. Cloud Times reporters Britt Johnsen and Kirsti Marohn for "Gambling on Growth."

Judges in this category said: "Told from the stand point of two regional reporters from a relatively small publication, one realizes through this story about community development policy that even hyper local matters can be applied to any population. This is a complex topic made understandable and compelling by clear, thorough reporting and analysis."

* Excellence in opinion journalism (larger organization): St. Cloud Times opinion page editor Randy Krebs for his editorial, "Words Matter Over Opinion."

Premack judges in this category said: "This well-written and persuasive piece about St. John's University's Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement decision to cut their ties with Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman raises First Amendment issues and exposes what many would say was a hypocritical decision by one of the area's more powerful institutions."

* Excellence in opinion journalism (smaller organization): Bemidji Pioneer opinion page editor, Brad Swenson, for his piece "Election Issues - Rural Health Care."

Premack judges in this category said: "The editorial takes on the complex topic of medical care for the indigent and meticulously but succinctly explains its impact on Bemidji. The piece builds powerfully to its unerring conclusion."

* Graven Award: Gary Eichten, producer and Midday host at Minnesota Public Radio, is the recipient of the prestigious 2011 Graven Award. His commitment to public affairs journalism, excellent interviewing skills and deep knowledge of Minnesota politics has distinguished him among his peers.

"As a Minnesota transplant, I gained a real understanding of what was going on in this state and why these issues mattered from listening to Gary's show every day. Gary provides a voice that is a valuable resource for everyone," said board chairman Art Coulson.

The Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Board gives the Graven award each year to members of the journalistic community whose contribution to excellence in the journalism profession has deserved special recognition. It is named after David L. Graven, a close friend of Frank Premack, who served on the Premack Board until his death in 1991.

* Farr Award: Laura Waterman Wittstock, of Wittstock and Associates is the recipient of the Farr Award. She is also the former president of Migizi Communications, a non-profit organization that delivers quality programming to the Indian community. Wittstock is the author of several publications and served as the fourth Louis W. Hill Jr. Fellow in Philanthropy at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, which now is known as the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

"Laura was the quiet force behind the scenes cultivating the next group of young journalists through her programming at Migizi Communications. She provided young people with an opportunity to learn about the communications industry and gave them the tools to tell their own stories," said board chairman Art Coulson.

The Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Board confers the Farr Award on occasions when a member of the community has made an exceptional contribution to public affairs journalism. It is named after George A. Farr, a close friend of Frank Premack, who served as chairman of the Premack Board for the first 29 years of the program.

* * *

The Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards competition is one of Minnesota's most coveted and celebrated journalism honors. Started after the death in 1975 of Frank Premack, a reporter, city editor and assistant managing editor at the Minneapolis Tribune, the competition has recognized Minnesota media doing public affairs journalism in their community or region for more than 30 years. The journalists submitting the winning entries receive a $250 check, while each of the winning media outlets receives a special citation. The entries are judged by a panel of citizens representing the Minnesota community and public life in the arts, journalism, law and politics.

The Minnesota Journalism Center is the outreach and professional development arm of the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The center operates on a nonprofit basis serving mass communication professionals, students and educators in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.

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