The Lawrence Times news team on Thursday announced two prestigious new awards and an honorable mention recognizing the publication’s community journalism and investigative prowess.
The team is honored to celebrate earning, “among dozens of interesting nominations,” the recognition of Best Non-Traditional News Organization from the American Journalism Online Awards from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.
The judge for this award, Clay Shirky, is vice provost at New York University and an associate professor at both the Arthur L. Carter Center of Journalism and Tisch School of the Arts. He is “considered one of the finest thinkers on the internet revolution,” according to the awards website. He has been writing about the Internet since 1996 and has had regular columns in Business 2.0 and FEED, among other publications.
Shirky wrote that the Times “is important not because it does some fancy new thing, but because it does a vital old thing well: local reporting.”
“The paper (if we can retain that anachronism) was founded last year by Mackenzie Clark, previously at the Lawrence Journal-World. Clark set out to start a one-person operation, but the outpouring of support allowed her to build a subscriber-funded, open access publication,” Shirky summarized.
“Fifteen years into the search for models that would support local journalism, the one essential, unautomatable ingredient is mutual commitment between reporters and community,” he continued. “The Lawrence Times has that and it shows. We should all hope it lasts and thrives.”
“It is an incredible honor for our team to be recognized in this way, and for someone outside of this community to so perfectly capture what we’re about,” Clark said.
“Since we launched last March, we have just been doing our best to become the local news outlet that the Lawrence-Douglas County community needs and deserves,” she continued. “I think no matter what, I will always feel like we’re still working to get there — and I hope our readers know that we will always keep striving to do more, and to do better.”
Reporter Conner Mitchell has earned two recognitions for his 2021 series, “Who Killed Nick Rice?”
The series reexamined the 1970 police shooting death of an 18-year-old on the University of Kansas campus. The circumstances of the killing were murky, and the shooter had never been publicly identified.
The first is the Burton W. Marvin Kansas News Enterprise Award, named for the former dean of KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications. It is given by the William Allen White Foundation to a publication or broadcast produced by a Kansas journalist demonstrating enterprise in developing and producing significant news stories.
“The 10-part series compellingly recounts a death for which no one was ever held accountable by collating details from hundreds of pages of recently released law enforcement records, newspaper archives and contemporary interviews,” judges commented of the series. “This re-examination of a 52-year-old cold case assembles the fullest account ever written of the Lawrence police force’s role that fateful night. Mitchell applies investigative journalism and riveting storytelling to subtly force the community to face unsettling truths that have resonance today.”
The second is an honorable mention from the AJO Awards in its category of “Best Use of Public Records.”
Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter for Bloomberg News who has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting and who was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy award, judged the contest.
“Conner Mitchell’s masterful use of public records gave a voice to the voiceless and laid bare a police department coverup during one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Leopold wrote. “This multi-part investigation about the 1970 shooting death of Nick Rice at the University of Kansas brilliantly demonstrates how documents can help journalists speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account.”
“Journalists don’t do the work we do for the personal recognition,” Mitchell said. “But it is a breathtaking honor for Nick’s story to be recognized by these esteemed entities. For a reporter as tenacious as Jason Leopold to call your public records work ‘masterful’ and to win the Burton W. Martin award, shared by so many remarkable Kansas journalists, it just means the world to me.”
Mitchell said that no story in his career has stuck with him quite like what happened to Rice and his family.
“His death was tragic and entirely preventable, but more importantly, the actions by the city of Lawrence in the days and weeks following Nick’s death wrongly tarnished his reputation for half a century,” Mitchell said. “This story was a chance to correct that misguided history, and for the final product to be recognized like this means it struck a meaningful chord with readers.”
Mitchell also thanked Nick’s brother, Chris, whose “gut feeling that his brother had been wrongly maligned for 50 years is what got this story into the light.”
“Chris did the heaviest lifting for this story, fighting the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for years to release his brother’s case file,” Mitchell said. “He also trusted me to tell the story of a tragedy that permanently impacted his family, which is no small feat.”
Maya Hodison, recently named as equity reporter and engagement director for the Times, expressed her excitement about the awards.
“Local news matters, and it’s exciting to see our publication growing and earning this kind of recognition,” she said. “We will continue to center the people of this community in our work, from highlighting all the amazing things going on to holding institutions accountable.”
In April, the Times was also selected for four Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence. In all divisions, the Times won second place for Best Digital Project for its COVID-19 stat dashboard, and third place in the Infographic category for a map of voter turnout in the 2021 city primary election. In Division VII — which includes the largest publications in the state, with circulations of 5,601 or greater — the Times won two awards.
Equity reporter Tricia Masenthin took second place in the Sports Feature Story category for her article that shared the story of Audrey Trowbridge, Free State High School social worker and head coach of track at Lawrence High School. Mitchell took third place in the Investigative Story category for his Nick Rice series.
“It’s almost unreal that we’ve been selected for so many accolades in just our first year and a half publishing,” Clark said. “As Conner said, we’re not in this for recognition — we just want to do the absolute best we can to serve our readers. So it is a particularly delightful surprise, and a meaningful opportunity for us to take a step back and look at what we have accomplished, and consider what we can do to reach our goals in the future.”
Clark noted that the honorable mention in the Best Non-Traditional News Source category is The Appeal. “To even be considered in the same light as The Appeal is truly an incredible honor for this team,” she said.
Wichita Eagle reporters Michael Stavola and Chance Swaim also won a Burton W. Martin award this year for their series, “Unresponsive: Crisis at Sedgwick County EMS,” which detailed problems with the county’s emergency management system, including staffing shortages and dangerously slow response times, according to an announcement from KU.