2019 FOI Media Awards

Congratulations to the winners of VCOG's 2019 FOI Media Award winners!

First Place, Broadcast Television Stations, WDBJ7, Tim Saunders.
First Place, Daily Newspapers, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Patrick Wilson.
First Place, Non-Daily Newspapers, Rappahannock News, John McCaslin:
First Place, Online News Outlets, Virginia Mercury, Mechelle Hankerson 
Runner-up, Broadcast Television Stations, NBC29, Henry Graff
Runner-up, Daily Newspapers, The Roanoke Times, Jeff Sturgeon
Runner-up, Non-Daily Newspapers, The Tidewater News, Stephen Feleski

Join us Monday, Nov. 18, for a celebratory luncheon honoring them, as well as the work of reporters, producers and editors all across the Commonwealth who are using public records and meetings to inform and impact their communities.

Details about the lunch -- including early-bird ticket prices -- can be found here.

**The entries were judged by Ron Keefover, executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. Some of his reflections on the winners are excerpted below.

Broadcast Television Stations

First Place, WDBJ7’s Tim Saunders: I found the handling of the inadvertent voice mail recording well done professionally and ethically with the resulting news coverage accomplishing a baseline goal of providing viewers with an unbiased account of a heretofore secret process and discussions that led to funding decisions regarding the proposed train station. Beyond the obvious and clearly important news stories regarding the in-house discussions at the Department of Rail and Transportation, Mr. Saunders and the WBDJ7 management team exercised excellent judgment in moving forward after discovering the recordings, but also exercised very laudable restraint in reporting only on the comments directly related to the train proposal. The coverage, in my view, represents the antithesis of “gotcha” journalism television journalists are frequently accused of. Rather, their handling of the recording and resulting news stories that illustrate solid reporting critical to the public understanding of DRPT’s lack of transparency in this case.

Second Place, NBC29’s Henry Graff: Very nice coverage of an emerging topic of public interest that is on the front burner of states and communities throughout the country as they wrestle with police videos, their capture, their release, and their costly storage. As Mr. Graff’s coverage clearly demonstrates, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to addressing the issues surrounding and in some cases overwhelming law enforcement agencies from the tiniest jurisdiction to the largest. NBC29 is truly commended for its thorough and thoughtful data-based reporting from the five area law enforcement agencies he studied for these informative reports.

Daily Newspapers

First Place, Times-Dispatch’s Patrick Wilson: Investigative and enterprising reporting at its best! Wilson met and exceeded the watchdog element of solid journalism that the public expects, if not demands, from the media, in my view. Even more, the newspaper clearly backed his pursuit of the truth as evidenced by agreeing to pay a seemingly outrageous FOI records tab to secure what should be easily produced copies of public records. The result of the paper’s coverage clearly led to important legislation addressing this huge gap in open government law, but also in the resignation of a politico ensnared in a trap set by his own doing. This coverage represents all that is good in demonstrating the relevance of quality reporting in an age of Internet “fake news.” There is nothing fake about a solid journalist and his editors “surmounting significant resistance” in investigating and reporting the news.

Second Place, The Roanoke Times’ Jeff Sturgeon: Congratulations on a job very well done in reporting a law enforcement officer’s apparent checkered past, and the political issues existing among area law enforcement. Mr. Sturgeon’s actions in standing up in court to request Detective Frye’s records be unsealed speak highly of his journalistic presence, and resulted in the judge’s acquiescence to the request. The ensuing reporting appeared balanced, with Detective Frye’s response to the allegations included in the stories as the details surfaced.

Non-Daily Newspapers

First Place, Rappahannock News’ John McCaslin: The paper’s relentless pursuit of thousands pages of open records not only informed readers of apparent behind-the-scenes politics being employed to move a historic rural post office to a “modern highway location,” but also reversed that decision. The coverage, to the credit of the News, led to the process of building a new post office within the town’s boundaries. The sense of community newspapering clearly shone through in this example of quality reporting. The coverage was thorough, thoughtful, and well-written in my view.

Second Place, The Tidewater News’ Stephen Feleski: In Kansas, we had what was called “the courthouse wars” for many of the state’s early years, including one incident when a courthouse was put on skids and dragged by horses from one city in the county to another. Knowing the unbridled furor that can arise whenever such an issue arises, the News is to be commended for its in-depth reporting on both sides of the controversy. Particularly impressive is the number and breadth of the emails requested, analyzed, and reported in the series of articles. A job well done!

Online News Outlets

Winner, Virginia Mercury’s Mechelle Hankerson: A nice job of covering the Library of Virginia’s seemingly impossible task of processing the backlog of records from past governors’ administrations so they can be released to the public. The in-depth analysis by Hankerson demonstrates the all-too-common contradictions among the promises politicians make in public with the onus of actually providing funding and following up on them. The coverage represents a clear promotion of open government by an online news outlet.