When Mrs. Ethel Kennedy called to tell me that the depth reporting class at University of Nebraska I was teaching along with Joe Starita had won a Robert F Kennedy Journalism award, we talked about several things. Most especially, we talked of the power of the work these young journalists had done, the situation in Pine Ridge, and a little about another young journalist and the impact of winning an RFK. From the RFK announcement of the 2017 awards:
“The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy,” Depth Reporting Class with Professor Bill Frakes and Professor Joe Starita, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
For nine months, a dozen University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism students focused a bright light on Nebraska’s darkest spot. Whiteclay - a village of less than a dozen people with four liquor stores that in 2016 sold 3.5 million cans of beer, which flowed illegally into South Dakota’s nearby dry Pine Ridge Reservation. The students’ multimedia project used in-depth stories, haunting photographs and compelling video to expose the lawless environment, rampant fetal alcohol syndrome, human trafficking and unsolved murders that ultimately helped force the revocation of the beer store licenses by Nebraska’s courts on April 27."
This is journalism that makes a difference. It's impact will continue to grow through the years as change happens through work done because of the information presented.
Its' what we do.
The award-winning project can be found at: www.woundsofwhiteclay.com
The first time I visited the RFK awards I was young. I was on the staff of the Miami Herald.
My winning entry then was about my friend Missy Koch, a University of Miami student who was diagnosed with cancer. For a year, I followed her journey, from leg amputation to recovery, and we published a 25-page story in the Miami Herald Sunday magazine on Christmas day 1984.
Missy and I share something unique, powerful. I was with her during a very intense year of her life. We were friends when we started, and that friendship got progressively deeper and stronger through the year.
We've stayed in touch through the years. I have incredible respect and appreciation for the way she sees the world. That hasn't changed in the four decades I've known her. She's a wonderful combination of smart, strong, sweet, feisty and tough.
Missy and I talked long and hard before telling her story. She had a tough painful road ahead of her, but knew she would prevail. She wanted others to be able to be empowered from what she was going through, I wanted to show her strength and how very intense and delicate it all was.
Missy's done much for many in her life, and I need to call her today; to see how she’s and her husband Todd are doing and where their kids are in their journeys.
Missy's husband Todd has written a fine book about Missy's story: "Run to Win: The Trials and Triumphs of Missy Koch Billingsley."