New Mexico In Depth won three 1st place and one 2nd place finish at last night’s Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) annual Top of the Rockies’ contest.
Sponsored by the Colorado chapter of SPJ, the contest features hundreds of entries from news outlets in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
We were especially pleased to hear that NMID won the Public Service award in the General News category for print circulation between 10,000-29,999 for the Choosing Life series, which examined Native American youth suicide.
The series, reported and written by Laura Paskus and Bryant Furlow and featuring photojournalistic work of Adria Malcolm and Mark Holm, included three long-form stories (here, here, here), and a Q&A with a representative of the New Mexico Suicide Prevention Coalition to learn how to talk about suicide and loss. Another story examined how not talking about suicide and loss can be deadly.
In addition, the series showcased important findings, including:
Government databases have differing totals for Native American youth suicides, meaning there aren’t precise numbers tracking this issue.
New Mexico in Depth’s analysis suggested something else, too: both databases underestimate the true number of Native lives lost to suicide. And without better data collection, no one can know the true extent of the problem – and young Native people across New Mexico will continue to die.
Many factors contribute to the apparent incompleteness of official statistics, including jurisdictional problems. For example, investigators from the New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator lack jurisdiction on federal or sovereign tribal lands and can only investigate reservation deaths when tribal officials invite them to do so.
The judges gave the series high marks.
“Excellent series on a tragic topic: the high suicide rate among Native American youths,” the judges said. “Many angles covered, and the reporter even includes a very personal final story. Bravo for devoting this time and energy to an important subject.”
This series wouldn’t have happened without all the people who shared their stories and perspectives, some of which were heart-wrenching. The loss of sisters, brothers, grandmothers, parents takes a significant toll, emotionally and physically, on individuals and on communities.
We know this. And we want to acknowledge the special type of courage needed to become vulnerable with strangers and talk about pain and loss.
In addition to the Public Service Award, NMID won 1st place for General Website Excellence, in print circulation between 10,000-29,999.
The judges praised NMID for its experimentation and innovation:
“The site showcases some very neat experimentation with content, such as the inline audio and searchable databases,” the judges said. “These features enhance the viewer’s understanding; they are not simply gimmicks.”
Sandra Fish took home another 1st place win for NMID, in the Politics: Enterprise Reporting category, with her story about lobbying in New Mexico, which included an examination of spending by New Mexico counties, cities and school districts on lobbyists.
Sandra found that public agencies spent $7.2 million to lobby in 2014 and 2015.
Sandra arrived at the $7.2 million figure after some painstaking work. She filed about 100 public records requests for information on what was spent on lobbyists, including expenses, by New Mexico cities, counties, public colleges and universities, K-12 schools and other public bodies. She then identified those public bodies with lobbyists through the Secretary of State’s campaign finance system.
But as Sandra wrote, as surprising as the $7.2 million might be, “it provides only a glimpse into the vast amounts of money spent on lobbying New Mexico’s state lawmakers and public officials.”
Unlike Colorado and other states, New Mexico doesn’t require lobbyists or their employers to disclose compensation. So it is unclear how many millions of dollars in addition are being spent by private-sector businesses, associations and other organizations to lobby New Mexico public officials.
Finally, NMID’s Capital Dilemma series won 2nd place in Investigative/Enterprise Reporting for print circulation between 10,000-29,999.
In their comments, judges acknowledged the comprehensive nature of this project.
“Exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of what happens to earmarked projects, with a persistent push for public transparency thrown in for good measure.”
A big thanks goes out to all of you who engage with NMID’s reporting and to those who have donated dollars to keep us going.