'Wounds of Whiteclay' receives Kennedy journalism award

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‘Wounds of Whiteclay’ receives Kennedy journalism award

"The Wounds of Whiteclay" was developed through a depth reporting class taught by Professors Joe Starita, Bill Frakes and Rebekka Schlichting.
"The Wounds of Whiteclay" was developed through a depth reporting class taught by Professors Joe Starita, Bill Frakes and Rebekka Schlichting.

Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have earned a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for a depth report that delves into the issues about and people impacted by alcohol sales in the small community of Whiteclay.

The honor, presented May 1 by the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation for Human Rights, recognizes achievement in journalism at the collegiate level that focuses on social injustices and human rights. The depth report, “The Wounds of Whiteclay,” published in January. Only one school receives the annual award.

“This Robert F. Kennedy Award is a flag planted on the highest peak of college journalism,” said Joe Starita, a professor of news-editorial who led the depth reporting class. “It is an expression of the iron-clad connection between effort and journalistic excellence. It reflects the tireless work and all-consuming passion of 11 students who — in a stunning package of writing, video, photographs and web design — kept shining a blazing light on the darkest spot in Nebraska; students whose collective will to do the right thing helped shutter the festering black hole of four beer stores that had unmercifully preyed on a helpless and vulnerable population for more than a century.”

In nine months, 11 students in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ depth reporting class explored and reported on the many issues surrounding the beer stores in Whiteclay — a village of seven residents that sells about 3.5 million cans of beer annually to residents of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Reservation.

The report showcased the students’ stories, photos and video on a website that has been cited for journalistic excellence in The New York Times, Esquire magazine and the Economist.

The coverage played a role in the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s discussions and two-day hearing on sales of alcohol in Whiteclay. In late April, the commission voted to revoke liquor licenses assigned to the four stores. Those stores stopped selling alcohol on April 31. The ruling is being appealed in Nebraska courts.

“Faculty Joe Starita, Bill Frakes and Rebekka Schlichting, and the students in the depth reporting class have demonstrated the highest level of excellence in journalism with their work on ‘The Wounds of Whiteclay,’” said Maria Marron, dean of journalism and mass communications. “Their commitment to this project and the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation showcases not only the importance of reporting on social injustice, but the role reporters play in exposing injustice.

“We are tremendously proud that the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation for Human Rights has recognized their tireless dedication with this distinguished award.”

Students and faculty leaders will have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. and accept the award, which includes a $500 cash prize and bust of Kennedy.

“In the end, (this award) reflects not only what it means to do exemplary social justice journalism, but what it means to be a compassionate and conscientious citizen,” Starita said.

Winning entries of the award focus on issues that reflect Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice, and the power of individual action. They provide insights into the causes, conditions, and remedies of human rights violations and injustice, and critical analyses of relevant policies, programs, individual actions, and private endeavors that foster positive change. For more information on this award, click here.

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