Tough Calls, Celebrated: Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism

Nominate an ethical journalist for the Ancil Payne Award

This year the integrity of the U.S. news media has been called into question as never before. Journalists are facing legal threats and accusations of “fake news,” and polls show the public’s trust in the press is at an all-time low.

Playing into this problem is the fact that many of the ethical decisions journalists make behind the scenes are invisible to the public.

To celebrate the tough calls journalists and editors make on a regular basis, even in the face of personal, political or economic pressure, the UO School of Journalism and Communication has presented the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism every year since 1999. Nominations are now open for the 18th annual Payne Award. Founded by Seattle broadcasting legend Ancil Payne, the award has been supported by Payne’s family since his death in 2004.

“In these tumultuous times, highlighting ethical journalism is more important than ever,” said Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean and professor of the School of Journalism and Communication. “The economic and political pressures facing journalists are steep and growing, but the work they do to inform the public is crucial to a healthy democracy. That’s why it is so important to support the journalists and news organizations who choose to uphold the highest standards of their profession and do the right thing.”

The UO community is encouraged to nominate deserving journalists by Feb. 15. Individual journalists or news organizations working in any media, including digital and broadcast, are eligible for work produced or decisions made during the 2017 calendar year. The School of Journalism and Communication will announce the winner in March and host an ethics panel and award ceremony featuring the honored journalists in April. The winner will receive a $10,000 award.

Last year’s Payne Award winners were Associated Press reporter Hannah Dreier and her editors for “A Child’s Scraped Knee,” one part of the AP’s “Venezuela Undone” series. Dreier covered the life-or-death struggle of a 3-year-old girl who was unable to get basic antibiotics in Venezuela’s crumbling medical system after a minor knee scrape became infected.

Dreier had to make a number of challenging ethical decisions while reporting the story, including whether to give up her journalistic objectivity to supply life-saving medicine, and whether to put herself, her sources and the child’s family at risk in an environment that does not allow media contact.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to distinguish between your role as a reporter and your role as a human being,” said Payne Award judge and 2014 Payne Award winner Bob Ortega, a senior writer, investigations, for CNN. “It is clear that Hannah and the people she was working with thought very hard to decide: What do we do here? Is there a point at which we say, ‘I’ll just go buy the drugs myself?’”

At the Payne Award ceremony in April 2017, the School of Journalism and Communication also recognized finalists Shane Bauer and Anne Galloway.

Bauer’s article in Mother Jones, “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard,” detailed his undercover experience as a guard at a private prison. His work contributed to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to stop contracting with private prisons.

Galloway’s series of articles for the news site VTDigger.org exposed a government-backed resort project’s fraud over two years, which led federal regulators to accuse the developers of misusing $200 million in investor funds.

“So much amazing journalism has been done this year, often under significant duress,” said Molleda. “We hope to receive many high-quality nominations for the Payne Award this year. And we look forward to giving journalists and media organizations the recognition they deserve for the important and difficult decisions they make every day in pursuit of the truth.”

—By Becky Hoag, School of Journalism and Communication