"The award goes to The Salt Lake Tribune for its relentless coverage of how Brigham Young University and Utah State University botched investigations into sexual abuse complaints," the judges wrote in their comments. "Their reporting highlighted example after example of how victims were vilified.
"The Tribune showed how the policies, campus police and the Title IX office at BYU, created to protect victims, actually subjected female students to an inquisition by the Honor Code Office where the women had to explain their behavior. At USU, reporters found that university authorities had failed to follow up on complaints that a football player had assaulted female students. Their reporting led to 10 more women coming forward. The Tribune journalists, who took on arguably the most powerful institutions in the state, drove widespread reforms, including a sweeping overhaul of how BYU treats sexual assault reports, policy changes at USU and criminal charges against a former football player."
The Blethen Award recognizes the best of local investigative journalism and reporting that affects communities.
"This is a tremendous honor for The Tribune," said Paul Huntsman, The Tribune's owner and publisher. "As a reader and as a citizen, I certainly value this kind of in-depth and important investigative work, and I'm so pleased that other journalism professionals do, too."
A year ago, a Brigham Young University student stood up at a forum to speak out against the lack of an amnesty clause in the university's Honor Code, saying the behavior standards on sex, drinking and dress discouraged victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
Tribune reporter Erin Alberty had already started covering the issue, so when student Madi Barney made that public declaration, Alberty and other reporters and editors began digging in earnest.
As dozens of sexual assault victims at BYU and other colleges trusted The Tribune with their stories, reporters started looking at discrimination policies on campuses across the state and fought for public documents that numerous law enforcement and campus agencies were reluctant to release.
These stories spurred crucial conversations about campus safety, led to significant changes to BYU's Honor Code and resulted in criminal rape charges being filed against former Utah State University football player Torrey Green.
Many on the Tribune team contributed to this yearlong investigative project. Reporters Alberty, Jessica Miller, Alex Stuckey and now-digital-editor Rachel Piper did most of the heavy lifting on reporting, with strong assists from Matthew Piper, Benjamin Wood, Nate Carlisle and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Although this is a reporting award, photographs by Leah Hogsten as well as Chris Detrick and Francisco Kjolseth helped tell the story. Managing Editor Sheila McCann ably led the entire effort.
Sustained investigative work is exhausting, full of road blocks, false starts and twists. It's also expensive to dedicate staff time, pay for records and travel, and when you have to enlist lawyers. I credit my predecessor Terry Orme for embracing this kind of exceptional journalism. This project started well-before I took on the role of editor, but I'm so honored to be able to continue to support it.