NMID wins top honors in regional, state journalism contests

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Josh Bachman/Las Cruces Sun-News

Students at Lynn Middle School organize drinks for a Rio Grande Food Bank event on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, at Lynn Middle School, Las Cruces Public School's first community school.

New Mexico In Depth collected six awards – two first-place and four second-place – in a regional journalism contest that pit it against the largest newspapers, radio and TV stations in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The honors, part of the annual Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, were announced last week at the Denver Press Club.  

NMID took first place in the legal enterprise and education enterprise reporting categories, according to SPJ.

In the former, Jeff Proctor and Justin Howarth won for a three-story collaboration between NMID and the Santa Fe Reporter, Santa Fe’s alternative weekly newspaper, beating out the Salt Lake City Deseret News newspaper and Westword, an independent news outlet in Denver, for top honors. The series examined how an influential New Mexico powerbroker might have escaped a drunken driving charge in Albuquerque and disclosed that prosecutors had misled the public about a plea deal with the former Cabinet secretary in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. The third story in the series spotlighted the potential for conflicts of interest in New Mexico’s legal community. Proctor and Horwath’s reporting prompted the Columbia Journalism Review, one of the nation’s premier journalism periodicals, to do its own story comparing how various media outlets covered the public disclosure of the powerbroker’s arrest after NMID and the Reporter published the first story in the series.  

A screen capture taken from the body camera of a Albuquerque police officer who was investigating Ryan Flynn (pictured) for DWI in May 2017

“Reporters Jeff Proctor and Justin Horwath deserve high praise for uncovering how the DWI case against a former high-ranking state official got pleaded down, then following up with a story showing how officials lied to them about how hard the case would have been to prosecute,” Top of the Rockies’ contest judges wrote of the three-story series. “They topped it off with a deep look into the prosecutor-defense attorney relationship that raised the potential for conflicts of interest. All-around great work.”

In the enterprise education reporting, Sylvia Ulloa took first place, beating out the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News newspapers, for a profile of Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces that doubled as an exploration of a new trend in education circles. In the last year, Lynn Middle School has reimagined itself from a traditional campus into a community school, a model that is becoming more popular nationally and that borrows from the one-room schoolhouse, but with a modern twist. Instead of sending students out into the world to get help for non-classroom challenges, the school brings the world to them.  

Lynn Middle School Principal Toni Hull gets ready for an assembly on the first day of school at Lynn in August. She wanted to set a different tone at the school as it ramps up its community school effort. “I just wanted it to be a memorable experience so that kids and teachers realize that something’s different. And it’s OK to have fun at school,” she said.

“A first-rate piece that shows how creative thinking and action can change the direction and prospects for a so-called “failing” school,” the judges wrote. “Well-written. Kept my interest all the way through.”

In addition to those awards, NMID won second place in four other Top of the Rockies’ categories.

  • Sylvia Ulloa won second place in the Best Solutions Journalism category for profiles of three southern New Mexico communities – Roswell, Las Cruces and Jal – that are tapping local people, organizations and academic Institutions to revision early education in rural New Mexico.

NMID’s showing in the Top of the Rockies’ contest comes a week after it won five first place awards and two second place finishes in the annual New Mexico Press Women Association’s contest.

Here are highlights from the contest.

  • NMID 2017-18 Fellow Xchelzín Peña won first place in NMPW’s news story (online publication) category for her profile of Laura Aguiar, who feared deportation after a cancer diagnosis despite qualifying for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
  • Marjorie Childress won first place for In-Depth Reporting for a series of stories that examined how money was used in New Mexico’s 2018 elections. Highlights included stories that told readers how donors get around contribution limits, the built-in financial advantage incumbents have against challengers and the political preferences of certain industries. Another story showed how small donors came up big for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Michelle Lujan Grisham.
  • Jeff Proctor won first place for continuing coverage for a series of stories – here, here, here, and here – that unearthed more information about a controversial 2016 federal sting in Albuquerque that arrested high rates of minorities but few Anglos. His reporting also disclosed that federal courts in New Mexico in certain instances didn’t follow their own procedures for deciding which documents are made public and which remain sealed. In these instances, attorneys, and not judges, decided what remained secret.  
  • Sylvia Ulloa won first place in speciality education reporting for a story that profiled the creativity teachers and education officials in little Jal, New Mexico, exhibited to get around state bureaucracy to build an innovative child care center for an influx of oil field workers and their families.
  • Ulloa won another first place for feature story (online publication) that showcased efforts in geographically isolated Roswell. In that city, officials are building a comprehensive plan to provide PreK for all students that could create a blueprint for early childhood expansion for other rural areas throughout New Mexico.

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