LAWRENCE -- The Burton W. Marvin Kansas News Enterprise Award for reporting in 2003 will be shared this year by Nor'West Newspapers, a six-newspaper group in northwest Kansas, and the Wichita Eagle. The award was presented Feb. 13 during William Allen White Day activities at the University of Kansas, where Marlin Fitzwater received the William Allen White Foundation's 2004 national citation.
Given since 1974 by the William Allen White Foundation, the award recognizes outstanding reporting by newspersons in Kansas. It was named in honor of the foundation's first director and a former dean of the KU journalism school.
In a 16-page tabloid titled "Rural Schools ... on the bubble," the Nor'West reporters found mostly decline and retreat and serious concern about what another school consolidation would mean. The population decline in that area results in fewer students, which means less money for schools.
Under the ownership and direction of Steve and Cynthia Haynes, Nor'West Newspapers include the Bird City Times, Colby Free Press, Goodland Star-News, Norton Telegram, Oberlin Herald and Saint Francis Herald. They range in circulation from 489 to 2,160. The total news staff for all six newspapers is eight, and all eight were involved in an analysis of rural school districts in 12 northwest Kansas counties.
This package of stories represents the newspaper group's dedication to coverage of an issue of overriding public concern, representing a commitment to serve the public and initiative in acting on that commitment, the competition judge said.
The Wichita Eagle
The Wichita Eagle set out in 1999 to examine how many parolees had committed serious crimes while on parole. The Kansas Department of Corrections stonewalled in an effort to keep secret the parolees' supervisory histories, including details of their crimes. Then Gov. Bill Graves publicly backed that decision, leaving the Eagle with the option of dropping the story or going to court. The Eagle brought suit. In 2001 a district court ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections.
The following year the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Department of Corrections had inappropriately denied records that the newspaper sought for almost three years. The state's highest court unequivocally clarified that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise prohibited by this act.
When the records were provided, reporter Hurst Laviana cited chapter and verse of more than two dozen Kansans' having died at the hands of people being supervised by state parole officers in the previous four years. Nearly two-thirds of the parolees who killed were on at least their second chance at parole; one had been paroled seven times. More than a third of the parolees had broken contact with their parole officers before they were arrested for murder. Parole violators faced the same maximum punishment -- six months -- no matter how many times they had violated parole.
In response to the Eagle's investigation, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline ordered the creation of a task force to track down the most dangerous of the state's almost 500 parole violators. At year's end, 48 absconders had been apprehended.
The Eagle's efforts in this situation reflect extraordinary commitment, persistence and effectiveness. Reporting by Laviana and other Eagle reporters was in the finest tradition of William Allen White, the competition judge said.
Nor'West's Steve and Cynthia Haynes both are KU graduates. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1970; she graduated in 1971 from the School of Pharmacy. The Eagle's Hurst Laviana did graduate study at the KU journalism school.
For more information, contact Jennifer Kinnard, communications coordinator for the KU William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, at (785) 864-7644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact us: email@example.com | (785) 864-3256 | 1314 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045