Eleven students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications took home the grand prize at the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards ceremony May 23 in Washington, D.C.
It was the first time in the event’s 49-year history that the top prize went to a college group. Other division winners included National Geographic, The New Yorker, HBO and Univision.
The students won for their depth reporting project “The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy,” which delved into the issues and impact of alcohol sales in the small community of Whiteclay.
“These students spent hundreds of hours over the last nine months exploring and exposing the multitude of issues surrounding Whiteclay,” said Joe Starita, professor in the journalism college and an editor of the project. “This is an exceptional feat of journalism at any level, and the resulting package is one in which every Nebraska taxpayer got their money’s worth.”
Chris Bowling, a senior journalism major who was a reporter and graphic designer on the depth report, said it was “absolutely insane” to be recognized in a room full of journalists passionate about human rights issues.
“These are journalists we look up to and aspire to be like,” he said.
The undergraduate students explored and reported on the many issues surrounding beer stores in Whiteclay – a village of seven residents that sells about 3.5 million cans of beer annually to residents of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Reservation.
The report showcased the students’ stories, photos and video on a website that has been cited for journalistic excellence in The New York Times, Esquire magazine and the Economist.
The coverage played a role in the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s discussions and two-day hearing on alcohol sales in Whiteclay. In late April, the commission voted to revoke liquor licenses assigned to the four stores. Those stores stopped selling alcohol on April 30. The ruling is being appealed in Nebraska courts.