Sun Journal accepts NENPA awards

0

LEWISTON — The Sun Journal accepted two first-place awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association on Saturday, including honors for investigative reporting and transportation reporting.

Both awards reflect the newspaper’s watchdog role at the state and local level, said Executive Editor Rex Rhoades. He said he is extremely proud of the staff’s ongoing commitment to government accountability.

One of the first-place awards recognized the newspaper’s series of stories, published between April 11 and June 14 last year, about allegations that Gov. Paul LePage pressured hearing officers at the Department of Labor to decide more cases in favor of employers rather than employees, and the resulting federal investigation of these allegations.

The Sun Journal’s report of April 11, “State labor workers say they were pressured to deny jobless benefits,” included complaints from unnamed DOL hearing officers who said they felt abused, harassed and bullied by LePage’s tone and rhetoric during a mandatory luncheon at the Blaine House. They said they found it intimidating and it made them afraid they could lose their jobs if they didn’t tilt more of their appeal decisions in favor of employers.

Advertisement

The reaction to that story was immediate: A number of hearing officers contacted their union representatives at the Maine State Employees Association seeking job protection as whistle-blowers; a staff attorney for the MSEA called for an investigation into the governor’s actions; state lawmakers called on DOL Commissioner Jeanne Paquette to condemn the governor’s actions; and the governor established a blue ribbon commission to investigate Maine’s entire unemployment compensation system.

David Webbert, president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, made a formal request to the federal DOL for a full investigation. That investigation began less than three weeks after the Sun Journal’s initial report. A federal report of that investigation was expected to be released on Jan. 10, but, according to sources, is now “on hold.”

The blue ribbon commission concluded its work several months ago and found no bias in the unemployment hearing officers’ decisions.

The writers included in this award are Staff Writer Christopher Williams, State Politics Editor Scott Thistle and Judith Meyer, managing editor/days.

The newspaper’s DOL investigation also won NENPA’s prestigious Publick Occurrences Award in October.

The second first-place award honored the Sun Journal’s reporting and analysis of accidents at the intersection at Lake Shore Drive and Route 4 in Auburn, and of motorists’ fear for their safety.

The analysis of accident and injury rates was sparked in August 2012 when 5-year-old Danika DeMayo was seriously injured there. The family car was stopped on Route 4, waiting to make a left turn onto Lake Shore Drive, when a pickup truck slammed into the back of the car, dislodging DeMayo from her restraint and tossing her into the front seat.

Dozens have been injured in similar accidents at that intersection and people have complained for years about how frightening it is.

Three days after the newspaper published its Sept. 16, 2012, analysis, “Seeking a safer way: Route 4 drivers say deaths, injuries prove changes needed,” the Maine Department of Transportation installed a flashing yellow sign at that intersection warning of turning vehicles. There has not been a single serious accident at that intersection since.

Residents and city officials have since convinced MDOT to make additional improvements, which the Legislature voted to fund and civil engineers are now working to design.

The principal writer on the project was Lindsay Tice, who was recently named Maine’s Journalist of the Year. Staff Writers Scott Taylor and Christopher Williams also contributed to the newspaper’s coverage.

The Sun Journal also placed in several other categories, including: crime and courts reporting, Chris Williams, for his Dec. 2, 2012, report of the inequity of legal representation in protection from abuse order cases; and right-to-know, Scott Thistle, for his work in forcing the Appropriations Committee and the governor’s staff to open a budget meeting to the public in January 2013.

Sports writers Kalle Oakes and Kevin Mills were honored for their work in 2013, and the sports staff was recognized for its Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, section featuring the 2012-13 high school basketball preview.

The awards were given out at the NENPA conference at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

LEWISTON — The Sun Journal accepted two first awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association Saturday, including honors for investigative reporting and transportation reporting.

Both awards reflect the newspaper’s watchdog role at the state and local level, according to Executive Editor Rex Rhoades, who said he is “extremely proud” of the Sun Journal staff’s ongoing commitment to government accountability.

One of the first place awards recognized the newspaper’s series of stories, published between April 11 and June 14 last year, about allegations that Gov. Paul LePage pressured hearing officers at the Department of Labor to decide more cases in favor of employers rather than employees, and the resulting federal investigation of these allegations.

The Sun Journal’s report of April 11, “State labor workers say they were pressured to deny jobless benefits,” included complaints from unnamed DOL hearing officers that they felt abused, harassed and bullied by LePage’s tone and rhetoric during a mandatory luncheon at the Blaine House, which they said they found intimidating and made them afraid they could lose their jobs if they didn’t tilt more of their appeal decisions in favor of employers.

The reaction to that story was immediate: A number of hearing officers contacted their union representatives at the Maine State Employees Association seeking job protection as whistle-blowers; a staff attorney for the MSEA called for an investigation into the governor’s actions; state lawmakers called on DOL Commissioner Jeanne Paquette to condemn the governor’s actions; and the governor established a Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate Maine’s entire unemployment compensation system.

And, David Webbert, president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, made a formal request to the federal DOL for a full investigation. That investigation began less than three weeks after the Sun Journal’s initial report; a report of the investigation was expected to be released on Jan. 10, but according to federal sources is now “on hold.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission concluded its work several months ago and found no bias in the unemployment hearing officers’ decisions.

The writers included in this award are Christopher Williams and Scott Thistle, and Judith Meyer, managing editor/days.

The second first place award honored the Sun Journal’s reporting and analysis of the intersection at Lake Shore Road and Route 4 in Auburn, and of neighbors fear for their safety.

The analysis of accident and injury rates was sparked in August 2012 when 5-year-old Danika DeMayo was seriously injured there, when a pickup truck slammed into the back of the family car, which was stopped and waiting to turn left.

Dozens have been injured in similar accidents at that intersection and people have complained about how frightening this intersection is for years.

Three days after the newspaper published its Sept. 16, 2012 analysis, “Seeker a safer way: Route 4 drivers says deaths, injuries prove changes needed,” the Maine Department of Transportation installed a flashing yellow sign at that intersection warning of turning vehicles. There has not been a single serious accident at that intersection since.

Residents and city officials have since convinced MDOT to make additional improvements, which the Legislature voted to fund and civil engineers are now working to design.

The principal writer on this project was Lindsay Tice, who was recently named Maine’s Journalist of the Year; Staff Writers Scott Taylor and Christopher Williams also contributed to the newspaper’s coverage of the situation.

The Sun Journal also placed in several other categories, including: Crime & Courts Reporting, Chris Williams, for his Dec. 2, 2012 report of the inequity of legal representation in protection from abuse order cases; and Right-to-Know, Scott Thistle, for his work in forcing the Appropriations Committee and the governor’s staff to open a budget meeting to the public in January 2013.

Sports writers Kalle Oakes and Kevin Mills were also honored for their work in 2013, and the Sports staff placed for its Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, Sports section featuring the 2012-13 high school basketball preview.

The awards were given out at the NENPA conference on Feb. 8 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Advertisement
SHARE