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Hartford Writers Win Selden Ring Award

Matthew Kauffman and Lisa Chedekel earned a $35,000 prize for their collaboration.

Photo/John Woike

Hartford Courant writers Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman have won the 2007 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for their series exposing the U.S. military’s recruitment and deployment of mentally ill soldiers in Iraq.

The $35,000 annual prize, presented by the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, recognizes the year’s outstanding work in investigative journalism that led to direct results.

Beginning in May 2006, the Courant published a series of articles detailing how “the U.S. military is sending troops with serious psychological problems into Iraq and is keeping soldiers in combat even after superiors have been alerted to suicide warnings and other signs of mental illness.”

“The Hartford reporters documented the tragic consequences, including suicides among unstable recruits,” wrote the award judges, citing the significance of the issue, the compelling manner in which it was presented and impact of the reporting on changing military policies. “As a result of the Courant’s reporting, Congress has mandated new mental health screening for recruits and set limits on how long troubled soldiers can be required to stay in a war zone.”

Michael Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of the Los Angeles Times and director of USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism, said, “Even as news organizations adapt to the challenges of a volatile media landscape, the critical importance of good investigative reporting that holds our institutions accountable for policies and practices that harm the vulnerable in society will not diminish. The exceptional reporting by the Hartford Courant and the other finalists demonstrate the importance of the work and commitment by news organizations in protecting the public interest.”

In addition to the Courant, judges honored three other news organizations for their outstanding work, recognizing them as finalists for the 2007 Selden Ring Award:

� Bloomberg News for its “Duping Main Street” series. This reporting revealed how large financial institutions cooked up agreements to issue municipal bonds for public uses like affordable housing, then collected millions in fees without ever disbursing any money to local communities. Martin Z. Braun, David Dietz, Michael Marois, William Sellway, Christine Richard and Darrell Preston reported on this project.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for reporter Meg Kissinger’s series “Abandoning Our Mentally Ill,” which reported on the abysmal housing provided for the poor who were mentally ill. The series prompted new state and local regulations and funding to improve housing for the mentally ill.

The Seattle Times for “Your Courts, Their Secrets.” The series documented how judges improperly sealed hundreds of civil court cases in Washington state’s largest county. The reporting has opened the court files to the public and led judges to end the practice of routinely sealing cases. Ken Armstrong, Justin Mayo and Steve Miletich reported this work.

“While major metro dailies again did exceptional reporting, the work by regional leaders, such as the Hartford Courant, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Seattle Times, along with Bloomberg was equally impressive,” Parks said. “In addition, there were good entries by alternative weeklies from half a dozen cities. Investigative reporting is one of the most serious responsibilities that American journalists have, and this year’s Selden Ring entries show that news organizations, large and small, take it seriously.”

In April, Chedekel and Kauffman will attend the award presentation in Los Angeles, meet with students and participate in a symposium on investigative journalism.

The 2007 Selden Ring Award was selected by a panel of reporters, editors and journalism school faculty including David Boardman, executive editor, The Seattle Times; Mark Katches, assistant managing editor/projects & investigations, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Ann Marie Lipinski, senior vice president/editor, The Chicago Tribune; Deborah Nelson, director, Carnegie Seminar, The Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Chris Peck, editor, The Commercial Appeal; Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor, The Sun-Sentinel; and Susan Schmidt, reporter, The Washington Post. There were more than 60 entries for this year’s award.

The Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting was established in 1989 by the late Selden Ring, a Southern California business leader and philanthropist. He gave the award to honor journalists whose investigative reporting informed the public about major problems or corruption in society and yielded concrete results.

Hartford Writers Win Selden Ring Award

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