The Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic has been named the first recipient of the PNRC’s national Public Notice Journalism Award for 2014. The newspaper is recognized for a series inaugurated by an alert reader who spotted a payment by a local school board in a public notice. The reader’s tip to the newspaper led to a protracted open records lawsuit by the newspaper against the school district. The conclusion: the revelation of a $175,000 severance agreement with a former school superintendent that otherwise would not have reached the readers’ attention.
The award will be presented March 13 at the National Press Club. Republic editor Seth Tupper will receive the award on behalf of the newspaper.
PNRC President Bradley L. Thompson II, chairman and CEO of the Detroit Legal News, said the revelation of a secret, sealed agreement between the public body and its former employee was the type of public business that might have been swept aside if not for the public notice.
“(The series) all started with the reader who saw the payment in the legals and called us with the tip. Without those legals, I don’t believe anyone outside of the school district board and administration would ever have known about the amount or nature of the $175,000 agreement between the school district and the ex-superintendent,” Tupper said.
Thompson said the Republic’s reporting demonstrated why Americans need robust and viable public notice.
“This series is a terrific illustration of why it is important for governments to keep these notices where the public is likely to find them. The reader in this case helped to point to the story. The reporting staff and their Freedom of Information lawsuit did the rest. We are honored to recognize this excellent series,“ he said.
The entry was selected from a pool of stories involving public notice that ran in US newspapers in 2013.
The Public Notice Journalism award was established in 2013 by American Court and Commercial Newspapers in partnership with state newspaper associations. It is intended to encourage reporters and editors to incorporate public notices into their reporting and writing.
In 2014, participating state press associations will begin to make Public Notice Journalism Contest awards within their own existing newspaper awards programs. A national winner will be selected in 2015 from top state candidates.
The winning series of stories can be read here:
Secretive contract ordered public – March 30, 2013
Secret agreement goes to court – May 2, 2013
Paper wins lawsuit against school – August 29, 2013
Secret agreement still secret – August 30, 2013
Huron secret agreement unsealed, read aloud – September 10, 2013
Amount of secret agreement confirmed – September 11, 2013
Column: We raise hell – because it’s our duty – September 11, 2013