And the Batten Award Winners Are . . .

Three newspapers with three very different projects that engaged their communities were selected to share the first $25,000 James K. Batten Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism.

The Charlotte Observer's "Taking Back our Neighborhoods," a 19-month in-depth series on crime in nine city neighborhoods, was called "an unprecedented community/newspaper approach to fighting crime," by the board of judges.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., received the award for "A Community on the Rise," which followed citizens' year-long efforts to rebuild the town of Tyndall. It set "an example of what a small daily can do in inspiring a rural community in pursuit of a common cause."

The Kansas City Star's "Raising Kansas City" was credited with a "bold and creative leap in building a year-long work of journalism around the exploration of core values that drive society and how those values have been distorted in modern times."

"The central question of democracy is: 'What shall we do?' The journalism in these cases helped citizens to answer that question better," said the Batten Advisory Board, chaired by Tom Winship, former editor of The Boston Globe and chairman of the International Center for Journalism.

"The winning entries all illuminate the basic attribute of civic journalism: Doing journalism in a manner calculated to re-engage people in the process of public life. But each of the winners takes a slightly different path toward that goal. This, the selection committee felt, demonstrates that civic journalism is not a formula or set of techniques, but rather is experimental and open to varying approaches."

"The common thread is that each of these entries demonstrated the impact journalism can have when it moves beyond detachment and the mere chronicling of problems. In no case did the newspapers and broadcast stations set or carry out an agenda. Rather, they gave citizens a way to have a different kind of conversation with each other and to connect with each other in new, more deliberative and useful ways."

The awards were presented May 14 at the annual James K. Batten Symposium in Washington, D.C. (See page 8).The winners were selected from 100 entries by the board, comprised of prominent journalists.

The board also gave special recognition to two other initiatives:

Dallas Morning News' "The We Decade, Rebirth of Community," for cutting-edge reporting on civic re-engagement, a new national trend that is crucial to the revival of public life. The lead reporter was Nancy Kruh.

"We the People, Wisconsin," for fostering public deliberation on issues important to the people of the state. The is an alliance of the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wood Communications Group, and WISC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Madison, Wis.

Charlotte Observer editor Jennie Buckner said her newsroom, startled by soaring crime, sought a fresh look at an old problem, when it embarked on what would become "Taking Back our Neighborhoods."

"We wanted to offer readers more than another documentation of Charlotte's mean streets," she said.

So her team of reporter photographers and editors asked residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods to help report their story, to identify the problems as they saw them. They sought success stories in Charlotte, where solutions were already in place. And they offered readers itemized lists of ways to get involved personally. More than 1,000 people volunteered to help city officials razed unsafe buildings, a bank built a $50,000 community center, law firms volunteered to sue to shut crack houses.

"Along the way," Buckner said, community "perceptions changed about our coverage of crime -- as did our perceptions of how to cover it."

The Argus Leader's project began when the newspaper wrestled with how to counter the growing disdain and distrust people have of government and politics and how to help rural in the state that were in serious decline.

Then, said Managing Editor Peter Ellis, "the solution became obvious: Get a group of rural South Dakotans from one town together and let them solve their own problems."

To avoid a conflict, the paper enlisted a professor at the University of South Dakota who heads the country's only rural entrepreneurship program to work directly with the townspeople. The paper profiled three communities that were prospering then asked readers to nominate their towns to be the "Community on the Rise."

More than 500 people nominated 56 communities and Tyndall was selected. About 1,200 residents attended the first gathering. "Throughout this, the townspeople alternatively worked together well and fought like crazy. And it is those conversations that mark the biggest success of this project. We got people communicating and cooperating. Talk is the cornerstone of democracy."

By the end the year, the community had created a Tyndall Ambassadors program, to bring their ideas and help to other communities.

In late 1994, The Kansas City Star looked at the new challenges America's children were facing as they confronted new family structures, new technologies, expanding cultural diversity, and increasing violence. And rather than shy away from the political debate over "family values," said Managing Editor Mark Zieman, the paper decided to embrace the debate.

It invited a panel of 13 people to meet and after rigorous discussion they settled on a dozen values considered "most important to instill in young people." Then The Star went to work, reporting on one value per month. More than 50 reporters and editors produced more than 200 stories. Courage -- and how it's interpreted cynically by the media and marketers. Right from Wrong as demonstrated by the young men in "juvie hall." Awe and Wonder, Love of Learning, Proper Use of Money, to name a few.

By the end of the year, the effort had turned into a metrowide movement, Zieman said, as thousands of readers, including teachers, joined the discussion. More than 3,000 people turned out for workshops on such topics as children's discipline, children's literature, children's self-esteem.

And the paper found it couldn't end the project in December, 1995, so efforts are ongoing. "Public pressure to extend it into 1996 was "consistent and intense," Zieman said.

The deadline for the 1997 Batten award will be Feb. 15, 1997. A call for entries will be mailed in the fall. Call the Pew Center to be put on the mailing list or for more information. 202-331-3200.

Citations
The James K. Batten Award Advisory Board

The Charlotte Observer, "Taking Back Our Neighborhoods."
"The newspaper took an activist role by asking residents in the crime-ridden neighborhoods to report on the root causes of crime, and to participate in the search for solutions. This newspaper effort was grounded on unusually strong neighborhood-by neighborhood reporting The newspaper listened to and wrote about people whose voices are rarely heard. Residents all over Charlotte responded, demonstrating that an aroused community can, within the system of public life, take responsibility for its own well-being."

The Argus Leader, "Community on the Rise."
"The newspaper had twin goals: To counter the despair many people have of their government and to help many rural South Dakota towns that are suffering hard times. First the newspaper reported on how three communities had surmounted serious problems and taken control of their destiny. Then it enlisted a college professor to help one community, Tyndall, address its many problems in a deliberative and public way. The result was the establishment of a model for community discussion and debate over basic values that led to progress for Tyndall, and most importantly, hope for other communities that the process of democracy can work."

The Kansas City Star, "Raising Kansas City"
"More than 50 reporters and editors unabashedly wrote about, discussed and examined 12 basic values, delivering compelling accounts of childrens' struggles and triumphs in a most untraditional way. This was not a polemic; it was a bottom-up enterprise that captivated children, parents, schools and social organizations alike. And it was a prime example of how a news organization could connect to its community in a way that engaged thousands of citizens in thinking about their individual responsibility for making public life go better."


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