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Editor column: Tribune earns three of Utah's top five journalism awards

Published June 27, 2014 9:58 am
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Seek truth and report it."

So reads the first line of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.

"Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information," the ethics code continues.

It's the standard against which journalists evaluate ourselves and our work. It's therefore also the standard that the board of the Utah Headliners chapter of SPJ applied in selecting recipients of its top awards for 2013.

Salt Lake Tribune reporters won three of the five top awards in the Utah SPJ contest, an honor of which we are proud because it signals that fellow journalists recognize and respect The Tribune's commitment to the principles of quality journalism.

More importantly, we hope the awards presented Thursday indicate we are doing our job for readers in providing trustworthy watchdog reporting.

Awards received are the following:

Don Baker Investigative Reporting Award • Tom Harvey and Robert Gehrke accepted the award to a standing ovation from their peers for the approximately 200 stories they wrote in 2013 about alleged influence peddling, extortion and questionable political fundraising in the Utah Attorney General's Office.

"In the end, their dogged reporting shook up Utah's political establishment, transfixed readers, shed light on behind-the-scenes actions in the attorney general's office and exposed the inner workings of deep-pocketed political campaigns," according to the nominating letter.

"Their stories prompted five investigations … and led to widespread reforms."

Roy B. Gibson Freedom of Information Award • Deputy Editor Tim Fitzpatrick earned this award for the key role he plays on the Utah Media Coalition's GRAMA Watch Team, whose job it is to protect Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act.

The team formed back in 2011 when HB477 surfaced and passed, seriously hindering open-government protections in GRAMA before its repeal.

Since then Fitzpatrick, along with other coalition members, has monitored legislation and crafted responses that have become talking points and editorial responses when proposals could harm the cause of open government.

"Fitz has a passion for open government and a keen appreciation of the vital role a strong and independent press plays in keeping public officials accountable," media attorney Jeff Hunt said in the nominating letter.

Quintus C. Wilson Ethics Award • Tony Semerad and Harvey received this award for reporting the private terms of a deal that the The Tribune's operating company, acting on behalf of owner Alden Capital, cut with the Deseret News when selling shared assets in MediaOne of Utah to the News.

Acting on a tip, the two reporters obtained documents from the Department of Justice that showed Digital First Media, as part of the deal, ceded control of the MediaOne board to the Deseret News and agreed to alter a long-standing revenue split from shared operations so The Tribune now receives 30 percent of revenue and the Deseret News receives 70 percent. The Tribune previously received 58 percent and the Deseret News 42 percent.

DFM never intended the terms of the renegotiated agreement to become public, and Semerad and Harvey reported the story at some peril to their jobs, the nominating letter said.

The other two top Utah SPJ awards Thursday went to longtime KSL religion reporter Carole Mikita, recipient of the Clifford P. Cheney Service to Journalism Award, and Catalyst magazine, which received the Josephine Zimmerman Pioneer in Journalism Award.

In addition to the top awards, The Tribune won more than 70 other awards, including best newspaper and a best newspaper reporter honor for Gehrke.

Journalists value the recognition of their peers when it's time each year to present awards.

Even more, though, we hope the commitment to good journalism that these awards recognize translates to a quality product for readers.

Lisa Carricaburu is managing editor. Reach her at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.






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