“Small but mighty,” is a phrase that Indy Editor Susan Greene likes to use to describe our newsroom, which is, in fact, both. This weekend brought a welcome reminder of that when the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado chapter announced the winners of its annual Top of the Rockies contest.
Our team here, the team whose journalism you have made possible with your donating, reading, sharing and subscribing, did us all proud.We won 18 awards, taking not only first, but also second in the prestigious Public Service award category among news outlets of our size. Making us even more proud, Indy Editor Susan Greene and Rio Blanco Herald Times Editor Niki Turner won the prized Freedom of Information Award, one of the highest honors in the Top of the Rockies contest, which includes work from our fair state, plus New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah,
This is the second time Susan has won the award, which recognizes journalism that embodies the exercise of a free and fair press in a democracy. In 2018, she won for her “aggressive coverage of violence at the Denver County Jail, District Attorney George Brauchler’s pursuit of the death penalty, and her success suing for government documents to hold Colorado’s law enforcement community to account.”
This year’s award recognizes “Through the Cracks,” Susan and Niki’s joint investigation into the police shooting of Daniel Pierce, a mentally ill man, in Rangely, Colorado. After the shooting, town leaders refused to answer questions about the incident. They wouldn’t say what happened to the officers involved. They wouldn’t talk to Niki, the editor of the local paper. They wouldn’t cooperate with outside investigators.
The project involved months fighting for public records about the shooting and its aftermath, interviewing about 50 people, understanding who Pierce was, and investigating why Colorado’s rural law enforcement agencies are untrained and ill-equipped to handle people with acute mental illness. After publication, The Independent and Herald Times organized a forum in Rangely and community members discussed ways to overcome stigmas around mental health issues. During that forum, Pierce’s wife publicly forgave the lieutenant who killed him.
“The piece was an impressive demonstration of journalistic collaboration and using journalism to shed light on a topic worthy of that investigation,” SPJ Colorado President Tony Flesor said.
Judges also awarded “Through the Cracks” with its Public Service award and gave the second-place honor in that category to Susan for her story about the use of solitary confinement in the GEO-run ICE detention center.
In all, The Independent won first places for feature writing, investigative reporting, agriculture and environment reporting, column writing, political enterprise reporting, and news reporting. Congratulations to Indy reporter John Herrick, former Indy reporter and now Denver Postie, Alex Burness, and columnist Mike Littwin.
Three cheers to Susan and Niki. Three cheers to the rest of our team, past and present. Three cheers to you!
This originally went out as a newsletter to our readers. In that newsletter, of all newsletters, I made Tony Flesor, Tony Exum. Brain short-circuit. My apologies, Tony!