Advertiser Democrat wins prestigious award in journalism

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NEW YORK — The Advertiser Democrat has earned one of journalism’s top honors, the prestigious George Polk Award for Local Reporting. Other Polk recipients include The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

The award recognizes Editor A.M. Sheehan and Assistant Editor Matt Hongoltz-Hetling for their in-depth report on the shocking conditions of low-income housing in Western Maine published Oct. 27, 2011.

The expose uncovered the untenable conditions in which some on Section 8 subsidies lived and the blatant disregard for code, health, safety or common decency that certain landlords had for their Section 8 tenants. Within a few hours of publication an investigation was launched by MaineHousing and went all the way to Washington, D.C.

Since then, oversight has improved and tenants have been relocated.

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In notifying the paper of its award, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times editor John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards, said “it was an easy choice . . . judges agreed that your work was extraordinarily reported and written and carried a major impact.”

Recognized for work completed in 2011, other recipients include Sara Ganim, a 24-year-old crime reporter with The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who brought to light allegations of child sex abuse against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and who helped expose the institutional cover up that followed.

Journalists from news organizations big and small — including Bloomberg News, The Associated Press, ABC News, The Boston Globe, Al Jazeera English, the nonprofit news group California Watch and the independent radio program “This American Life” also earned George Polk Awards, which were given in 15 categories for work done in 2011.

Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, will be awarded posthumously for extraordinary valor for his work in the Middle East. Shadid, a 2003 Polk Award winner and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, died on assignment Thursday, Feb. 16, while crossing the border from Syria to Turkey.

Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of The Texas Observer, will receive the George Polk Career Award.

“There was a strong field of contenders this year, especially in investigative work,” Darnton said. “It was a big year for news with the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and reporters from many news organizations went behind the headlines to search for underlying causes and trends.”

According to the Polk Award site, “Mass communication . . . offers the press more opportunity to live up to the billing William Hazlitt gave the British journalist William Cobbett more than 175 years ago as “a kind of fourth estate.” By unearthing myriad forms of scandal and deceit in the last half-century, reporters have assumed an increasingly vital role in alerting and, ultimately, in protecting the public.

“Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in the list of winners of the George Polk Awards. Established by Long Island University in 1949 to memorialize the CBS correspondent slain covering a civil war in Greece, the George Polk Awards have become one of America’s most coveted journalism honors — and probably its most respected.”

The 2011 George Polk Awards will be presented at a luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday, April 5. CBS News “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl will be the citation reader.

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