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Newspaper wins prestigious Bolles Medal

Marion County Record won yet another major award Saturday.

To a standing ovation from more than 1,000 journalists at a banquet in Anaheim, California, Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer accepted the 2024 Don Bolles Medal from the international association of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

“Journalism is not a crime,” Meyer told the group to another round of applause.

IRE unanimously chose the Record from more than a dozen nominees for “remaining steadfast and refusing to be silenced” after police raided its newsroom and the home of its owners last August.

“The raid,” IRE said in a release, “was an extraordinary act by an American law enforcement agency, taken days after a reporter at the paper questioned the local police chief about potential misconduct at his previous job.

“It was quickly condemned by news organizations around the country as intimidation of the press and a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.”

The Record’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, died a day after seven officers invaded her home.

Publisher Eric Meyer and the staff of the 4,000-circulation weekly cobbled together equipment needed to continue publishing.

“If we hadn’t been able to figure out how to get computers together, (reporter) Phyllis (Zorn) and I and everybody else would have been handwriting Post-it notes and putting them on doors around the town because we were going to publish one way or another,” Meyer told Kansas Reflector days after the raid. 

The Bolles Medal recognizes investigative journalists who have “exhibited extraordinary courage in standing up against intimidation or efforts to suppress the truth about matters of public importance.”

The raid was based on warrants obtained by Police Chief Gideon Cody, who claimed Zorn and Meyer had committed identity theft by accessing open public records posted online.

Cody was a finalist for a mock award issued by IRE — a Golden Padlock, given annually to the nation’s most secretive agencies and individuals.

County Attorney Joel Ensey, who had met with Cody before the raid, later conceded that the warrants were obtained without evidence. Months later, Cody was suspended and then resigned. A state investigation is ongoing. 

“IRE is proud to honor the courage and sheer grit of Eric Meyer and his team in the face of the unconscionable actions of law enforcement against journalists doing their jobs for their community,” IRE executive director Diana Fuentes said.

A six-member committee reviewed more than a dozen nominations. The committee included four previous recipients. 

“We took particular note,” selection committee chairman AmyJo Brown said, “of the small size of the family-owned Marion County Record and its limited resources and recognized the courage it takes to stand up against this incredible pressure in a small community.

“Local journalists such as Joan and Eric Meyer and Deb Gruver and Phyllis Zorn are critical to protecting our democracy. We want them — and the world — to know we support them.”

Fuentes, the group’s executive director, noted that IRE members responded immediately after the raids, offering whatever help the Record might need and condolences on the passing of Joan Meyer.

“We stood with Eric Meyer that day and we stand with him and his staff today,” she said. “We will not be intimidated.”

In accepting the award, Meyer noted journalism’s vital role in making the public aware of critical issues lest people feel powerless and polarized by hot-button topics that leave democracy vulnerable to populism and authoritarianism.

His speech again was interrupted by applause when he recounted how he and his parents had gone together 26 years ago, while he was teaching at the University of Illinois, to purchase the Record and prevent it from becoming chain owned.

The Bolles Medal was created in 2017 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Arizona Project, an effort to finish the work of Don Bolles.

Bolles, an Arizona Republic investigative reporter, was killed in 1976 by a car bomb in retaliation for his reporting.

His death came days before the first national IRE conference, where he had been scheduled to speak.

At the time, he had been investigating allegations of land fraud involving politicians and individuals with ties to organized crime.

After his murder, nearly 40 journalists from across the country descended on Arizona to complete his investigation.

Their message, according to IRE’s news release about the 2024 award: “Even if you kill a reporter, you can’t kill the story.”

Previous winners of the Bolles Award were:

  • Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German, killed in 2022 in apparent retaliation for his reporting on a local public official.
  • Russian journalists Roman Anin and Roman Badanin, forced to leave Russia after their homes and offices were raided in retaliation for coverage of corruption allegations.
  • Four reporters from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times for their work exposing human rights abuses and handling of the coronavirus in China.
  • Investigative reporters for ProPublica and TV stations in Denver and Seattle along with syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts for their coverage of white supremacist groups.
  • A Turkish journalist imprisoned for more than year after reporting questionable dealings by Turkey’s prime minister.
  • Two Reuters journalists imprisoned for reporting on the massacre of Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar.
  • A Mexican journalist assassinated for exposing drug trafficking, corruption, and organized crime.

The Record also was featured last week in an article published by Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative and republished by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Since the raid, the Record has been honored with:

  • The inaugural Maria Ressa Prize for Courage in Local or Independent Journalism from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
  • The Citation of Courage from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association Foundation.
  • The William Allen White Foundation National Citation from the William Allen White Foundation at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
  • The Victor Murdock Award from the Kansas Press Association.
  • The Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information.

Last modified June 27, 2024

 

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