CoJMC receives Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Wounds of Whiteclay

CoJMC receives Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Wounds of Whiteclay

Monday, May 1, 2017 - 3:00pm
Shot of man in snow wrapped in blanker
"The Wounds of Whiteclay" was developed through a depth reporting class taught by Professors Joe Starita, Bill Frakes and Rebekka Schlichting. Photo by Jake Crandall.

By Savanah Baker and Alli Inglebright

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism & Mass Communications was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation for Human Rights on Monday, May 1. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in journalism at the collegiate level that focuses on social injustices and human rights. Only one school receives the award each year. The CoJMC was recognized for its work Wounds of Whiteclay.

For the last nine months, 11 students in a CoJMC depth reporting class have exhaustively examined the many issues surrounding four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska – a village of seven residents which sells about 3.5 million cans of beer annually to residents of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, where alcohol is illegal, and where alcoholism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, poverty, unemployment and suicide is rampant. The students have showcased their stories, photos and video on a powerful website that has been cited for journalistic excellence in Esquire magazine, The New York Times and the Economist.

“This Robert F. Kennedy Award is a flag planted on the highest peak of college journalism,” said Professor Joe Starita, 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 who had unmercifully preyed on a helpless and vulnerable population for more than a century.”

This coverage of Whiteclay not only helped lead to the temporary shutdown of Whiteclay’s beer stores, but also assisted in the Liquor Control Commission’s two-day hearing that took place in April. As of Monday, May 1, the four beer stores in Whiteclay have lost their liquor licenses per the LCC’s ruling. This is currently being appealed in the Nebraska courts.

“Professors Joe Starita and Bill Frakes, with Rebekka Schlichting, and the students in the CoJMC 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 the CoJMC. “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.”

The students, Schlichting and professors Starita and Frakes will have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., to accept the award. They will receive a cash prize of $500 and a bust of Kennedy to present to the CoJMC.

“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 this 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.