Good Morning Wilton, Hearst CT honored at CTSPJ awards gathering

Reporter Clare Dignan holds her awards plaque and speaks to attendees.
Clare Dignan

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists hosted a summer gathering on June 25 at the Ansonia Nature Center in Ansonia, Connecticut, where this year’s contest winners and scholarship recipients were honored.

The First Amendment Award for Journalism Excellence was established by Connecticut SPJ to recognize the achievement of journalists who promote open government and the pursuit of freedom of the press and other First Amendment rights.

This year’s winner is: “A free press, a fair election,” by Heather Borden Herve from Good Morning Wilton.

Judges said this about the entry: 

“A thorough dive into local candidates that utilizes First Amendment rights to shine a light on true positions and motivations of candidates. Revealing election coverage is critical to democracy and by going beyond the surface, by examining public documents and communications, this publication was able to provide the community important information. “

Heather was unable to attend but sent the following statement:

I’m sorry I couldn’t be there in person, and congratulations to everyone whose work was recognized today. Thank you for setting an example and keeping the bar high for all of us.

GOOD Morning Wilton is an independent, hyperlocal daily news website covering Wilton, CT, a small, suburban town with 18,000 residents. In 2013 the year I started GMW, Wilton had two weekly print newspapers, one bi-monthly magazine, and four daily news websites running news about Wilton. Now, like so many markets where corporate media ownership has impacted local journalism, only one weekly newspaper remains in addition to GMW, and even that paper has pared down coverage so much that it reports local election returns 4-5 days late.

The little guys like GMW matter all the more. Take, for instance, when an elected official publicly attacked us by name for asking questions, filing FOIAs and doing our work. When she threatened that she hoped the issue of “no unbiased media in town… would be resolved in the immediate future” — we knew how critical it is to keep working as we always have.

The small-town, hyperlocal experience doesn’t mean a First Amendment issue may not arise. It’s glaringly critical now, especially as we’ve seen media choices in our town winnowed away, how important and impactful our coverage is.

Voters told us over and over how they used our reporting to make their choices. Voters in each party told us they trusted our journalism. …We believe GMW’s reporting played a critical role in the election.

Thank you for recognizing that and validating why a free press is so vital.

The Stephen A. Collins Public Service Award is a special award for stories having a significant impact in the public interest. Entries must include supporting documentation such as letters, editorials, evidence of a change in public policy showing how the entry had an impact.

The award is named for Stephen A. Collins, a former editor of the Danbury News-Times, known throughout the state for his pioneering work on the state Freedom of Information Act. He was a long-time SPJ FOI chairman, and a member of the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame. 

This year’s winner is: “Lost to Abuse,” by Clare Dignan and Verónica Del Valle, from Hearst CT Media

Judges had this to say about the entry: 

“This series is both overpowering and heartbreaking. ….The reporters and editors balanced emotional, personal stories with reams of data. These are sad but important stories to tell and memorialize.”

Clare Dignan was on hand to accept the award, and spoke about working on a difficult project involving a touchy topic like domestic violence. She mentioned how a person from a domestic violence support center recently let her know that someone had reached out to them for help because of what they had read in the local newspaper. “If we could help just one person, it was worth it,” Dignan said. “But I’d like to think we helped many more.”

The Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award is given for a single story or formal series containing information, obtained through reporter initiative, not readily available to the news media or public.

Theodore A. Driscoll was a Hartford Courant investigative reporter who helped found IRE, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. in 1975. He is a member of the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame. 

This year’s winner is: “Policing the Police,” by Bill Cummings, from Hearst CT Media

Judges had this to say about the entry: 

“Thanks to the diligent investigating of Bill Cummings and Hearst CT Media, the public can now take a closer look at proceedings that by design were kept behind closed doors. Over nine months and through dozens of FOIA requests resulting in hard-fought battles over information not readily available to the public, dedicated journalists told a story of light reprimands, repeat offenses, and vanishing complaints, both broadly across the state and specifically in shocking cases of misconduct. Now the public can see the failings in a system that they fund, one that is meant to protect them. They can also see the areas that are still deliberately hidden by a lack of transparency on the part of many Connecticut police departments. This is fine investigative work that will surely result in positive change.”

Hearst CT Editor John Ferraro wears sunglasses and holds an awards plaque and speaks to attendees
John Ferraro

Bill was unable to attend the event, but editor John Ferraro briefed attendees on what went into covering such a big story. “It is time consuming, and it is expensive,” Ferraro said. “But we had the support and we are lucky we were able to do this project.”

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