Lessons learned: Community papers can produce outstanding investigations

Last year’s winner of the grand prize in the Dallas Bar Association’s prestigious Philbin Awards came from the CBS affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth.  Before that, the Dallas Morning News and the Fox affiliate in Dallas were also winners.  But going back to 2005, among those bastions of metro journalism, the name of another newspaper appears twice.

It’s the Hood County News in Granbury.

Kathy Cruz, a reporter for the News, has been named the grand prize winner of the Philbin Awards for her investigative series Routier Revisited and Justice for All, written for the News and for the Center.  Both series ran originally in the Hood County News and were made available by the Center for use in Texas community newspapers.

The Philbin Awards are given annually by the Dallas Bar Association to honor the best legal reporting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Judges considered educational value, accuracy, resourcefulness, as well as the journalist’s initiative in pursuing the story and the story’s contribution to public debate.

For Kathy, the Philbin is the latest in a long string of honors she has won at the News.  She is truly one of the outstanding reporters in Texas community journalism and indeed, in community journalism throughout the nation.

But the most exciting thing for us at the Center – and for all of us in community journalism – is that this award shows that community newspapers can excel in groundbreaking investigative reporting.  We don’t have to leave that work to our colleagues at the metros – a community paper that encourages enterprising reporting and stands behind its reporters when they ruffle feathers of public officials, can produce outstanding investigations.

Admittedly, it helps if you have a reporter like Kathy Cruz who’s willing to put in the long hours it can take to get the story.

But sometimes, these reporters just need encouragement from their publishers and editors.

Which brings us to Kathy’s publisher, Jerry Tidwell.  Jerry understands that sometimes great investigations – the kind of work that’s genuinely in the public interest – don’t always win public approval. Kudos to Jerry and to many other publishers around Texas who support good journalism and who believe that truth-telling ultimately pays benefits for the newspaper.

Kathy will take home the grand prize of $1,500 for winning the Philbin, but we believe that Texas community journalism is one of the winners, too.  We have demonstrated that we can make a difference with our reporting and that we can go toe-to-toe with the state’s major media in these awards.

Kathy’s series are free to any community newspaper in Texas to use in the paper or online, or both.  Click here for her Justice for All series and here for her Routier Revisited series.