Livingston Awards announced for young journalists

June 6, 2012

ANN ARBOR—A man falsely imprisoned for 25 years for the murder of his wife, the politics and manipulation of redistricting, and the extradition of a Jamaican drug lord that left nearly 75 civilians dead. These are the compelling stories by the new Livingston Award winners announced today.

Unique among major journalism prizes for including all branches of the media, competition for $10,000 in local, national and international reporting is limited to journalists under the age of 35. They are the largest all-media, general-reporting prizes in the country and are based at the University of Michigan along with the Knight-Wallace Fellows program.

The Livingstons also honor an on-the-job mentor with a $5,000 prize named for Richard M. Clurman, the distinguished Time, Inc. journalist.

The winners were introduced in New York by judges Ken Auletta of The New Yorker, Dean Baquet of The New York Times, Anna Quindlen of Newsweek and Charles Gibson, the former ABC News anchor.

“The judges have a remarkable record in singling out for early recognition young journalists who go on to leadership, including Thomas Friedman, Christiane Amanpour, David Remnick and Michele Norris,” said Charles R. Eisendrath, a former Time correspondent who directs the program at the University of Michigan. “Adding a prize for mentors who provide indispensible guidance at critical moments in a developing career helped complete an important circle of celebration.”

Winners for 2011 work are:

Local reporting. Andrew McLemore, 25, of The Williamson County (Texas) Sun for, “Until Proven Innocent.” McLemore, whose hometown is Edinburg, Texas, wrote a three-part series about Michael Morton, falsely imprisoned for 25 years for the murder of his wife. He retraced 25 years of evidence, records and interviews to explain how this extreme miscarriage of justice occurred. DNA evidence proved his innocence and McLemore’s reporting showed the guilty verdict was accomplished when evidence gathered by the lead investigator was withheld by the prosecuting attorney’s office.

“I wasn’t trying to prove Morton’s innocence, that was already clear,I was trying to show that the justice system had failed, that his wrongful conviction was not a blind mistake, but the result of arrogance and fear,” McLemore said. “The conclusion was a sad statement about human nature, I think. Make people afraid enough, and they’ll see a demon in their grandmother.”

National reporting. Olga Pierce, 32, hometown Lawrence, Kansas, Jeff Larson, 30, hometown Durango, Colorado, and Lois Beckett, 25, hometown New Haven, Connecticut, of ProPublica for, “Redistricting: How Powerful Hands Are Drawing You Out of a Vote.” The investigation into the politics and manipulation that go into redistricting began when the team of reporters attempted to find a mathematical or statistical explanation behind the redistricting. Their early findings led the reporters on an investigation into the politics of redistricting. Their three-part series revealed manipulation by corporations, unions, special interests and political parties.

“We realized district lines are just a piece of the puzzle. Redistricting provides many outlets for the powerful to manipulate a process that, ironically, is intended to protect the principle of one person one vote,” the team of Pierce, Larson and Beckett said. “Soon we realized this exploitation of the process was the real story, so we tracked down lobbying and campaign finance records, read thousands of pages of public testimony, watched hours of hearings and even traveled to neighborhoods that were negatively impacted. We even read hundreds of tweets on Twitter.”

International reporting. Mattathias Schwartz, 32, of The New Yorker for, “A Massacre in Jamaica.” Schwartz took a year old story about the 2010 extradition of Jamaican drug lord Christopher Coke and re-reported the facts of the assault on a neighborhood which was believed to be Coke’s hiding place. Schwartz, hometown Portland, Oregon, showed that most of the 74 people killed in the Tivoli Garden area were civilians and were murdered by Jamaican security forces after the shooting stopped. He also revealed the existence of video footage shot from a surveillance aircraft during the attack and passed onto U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“One would think that the federal government would be interested in releasing as much information as possible about the death of a young U.S. citizen, along with dozens of Jamaicans, in an operation assisted by the U.S. government and carried out, to a large degree, at its behest,” Schwartz said. “This was not the case.”

Introduced by Ken Auletta, author and media critic for The New Yorker, Stephen Shepard received the Richard M. Clurman Award for his dedication to mentoring young journalists. Shepard had a long career as an editor with Saturday Review, and then editor-in-chief of Business Week. He then became founding dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York. His mentorship while an editor was well known among those who worked for him, as well as his dedication and support to his colleagues. In Shepard’s view, he considers his move to the world of academics as a new and powerful way to provide support and direction to aspiring young journalists. “As a result of this special learning environment we have created,” said Shepard, “we are turning out some terrific young journalists who are succeeding in a very tough job market.”

In addition to Auletta, Baquet, Gibson and Quindlen, the Livingston judging panel includes Christiane Amanpour, global affairs anchor for ABC News and international correspondent for CNN; Ellen Goodman, columnist and author; John Harris, editor-in-chief, Politico; and Clarence Page, columnist and editorial board member at the Chicago Tribune.