posted 2012-04-25 23:57:11

James Aronson Awards at Hunter College

Awards for social justice journalism draw impressive journalists throughout the U.S.

Bridgit Boulahanis

Features Editor

One of Dwayne Booth's winning cartoons.
The 22nd annual James Aronson Awards for Social Justice Journalism and Cartooning with a Conscience took place at Hunter’s Lang Recital Hall April 18. The ceremony, which drew an audience of over 70 interested students and professional journalists, featured talks from the journalists who won the awards as well as a presentation from winning cartoonist Dwayne Booth.

The winners, selected by a panel of judges from Hunter’s Film and Media Studies Department, included journalist John Nichols of The Nation, who won a lifetime achievement award for his long career as a correspondent. Nichols highlighted his work covering the current union disputes in Wisconsin as one of the many highlights of his career.

Jim Morris and Chris Hamby from the Center for Public Integrity were awarded for their “wide ranging investigation of weak factory inspections that gravely endanger workers and surrounding communities,” according the Peter Parisi, ceremony organizer and chairman of the panel.

Anthony Cornier and Matthew Doig of the Sarasota Herald Tribune were also given an award for their investigative reporting regarding the vastly corrupt police system in their newspaper’s native state of Florida. In addition to exposing corruption in a series of damning articles on the subject, these reporters contributed to public knowledge by making their research data available online to people who want to look into the background of any Florida police officer.

Another panel member included Lea Goldman, writer for Marie Claire magazine, who won an Aronson award for revealing an abundance of fraud within the circuit of breast cancer awareness charities. Goldman exposed the widespread mismanagement of money in these charities, and as a result informed readers of how to ensure that their donations went to a worthy cause.

Danny Hakim and Russ Buettner of the New York Times were the final recipients of the Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Hakim and Buettner published a series of articles in 2011, which uncovered the unchecked mistreatment of the disabled in New York State Institutions.

The award for cartooning with a conscience went to Dwayne Booth, popularly known by his pen name, Mr. Fish. Booth is known both for his artistic abilities and his searing wit. Many at the awards lauded his uncommon ability to encapsulate the main points of a controversial issue with such brevity and poignancy as to encourage viewers to reconsider previously entrenched opinions.

Throughout the speeches at this year’s ceremony, the journalists impressed upon their audience the importance of a free press in America. During his introduction, Parisi immediately referenced the growing threats to journalism today.

With nods to the growing power of lobbying groups and big business, Parisi emphasized that journalists had to be strong to stand up to the various powers working to silence them. He was not, however, hopeless, “I, at least, find a lot of consolation in the way the work our winners do is done...not just the quality, but the fact that virtually all of these stories end with the things that people can do,” Parisi said.

In addition to the awards given to professional journalists and cartoonists, one award went to an undergraduate student journalist. This year’s undergraduate winner was John Bolger, News Editor for The Envoy, for his coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Oakland as well as his ongoing reporting on the Nov. 21 Baruch protests. Student journalist Matthew Perlman was given an Honorable Mention for his investigative work for the Hunts Point Express.

The award winners were each given an opportunity to present their work and inspirations in short speeches. Invariably they noted how honored they were to win the award named for the prestigious investigative journalist, James Aronson. Many also turned to the students in the audience, calling them to take up pens and become journalists themselves. “It is such a cool thing to be involved in a craft that moves so fast and presents such a challenge to power,” said Nichols. “To the young people in the audience, I am gonna tell you, this is really fun work.”

The ceremony concluded with a question and answer session, in which each journalist was asked about their motivation, their techniques and their goals. The award winners emphasized to curious audience members the importance of the internet to their work, as well as the necessity of constantly questioning authority.

The night concluded with snacks and refreshments in a reception down the hall, where award winners discussed their work with audience members in a more casual setting. At least two dozen audience members, many from The Nation magazine, attended this reception. Many attending felt that the presence of such an awards system reflected hope for the future of journalism, and thus the future of the country.

“We’ve got something to bring to this battle,” Parisi said, speaking of journalists and the fight for social justice.