In recognition of the important role played by the state´s news media in improving public understanding of key legal issues, The Missouri Bar annually presents its "Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards."
Three separate awards are presented by the state bar - one each for the print media, radio and television - in recognition of individual stories, series or editorials which meet one or more of the following criteria:
Media representatives are invited to identify members of the news media - either within their own organization or elsewhere - who have performed exceptional work within the general criteria outlined above. Self-nominations are also encouraged. Individual reporters or entire news organizations which have performed notable work in improving public knowledge of the legal system are eligible.
Copies of pertinent articles, audiotapes or videotapes should accompany all nominations. In addition, letters in support of nominations are encouraged. These letters should set out the content of the item(s) and indicate their significance to the citizens of their area or the state as a whole. Any follow-up or reaction to the item(s) should be summarized, as well. Final selection of the winners will be determined by the President of The Missouri Bar with the assistance of The Missouri Bar´s Executive Committee.
Two Missouri journalists received Excellence in Legal
Journalism Awards from The Missouri Bar during the 150th Annual Missouri Press
Association Convention, Oct. 1, 2016, at the Chateau on the Lake in Branson.
Jackie Rehwald, causes reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, was recognized
for the article “Behind
Bars For Just Thinking? As the Missouri Supreme Court prepares to decide his
fate, the News-Leader investigates Blaec Lammers’ case.”
The story focuses on the case of Blaec Lammers, who may have
inadvertently confessed to a crime he had no intention of committing. While
written and published in print, the online
version of her article features well-produced new media elements including
photography, video interviews, evidence photos and even interrogation videos, which
immerse the reader into the detailed story. The piece also shines a light on
the larger challenges the criminal justice system faces when it comes to the
“There were so many investigative reports, court documents
and videos related to the Blaec Lammers case. I spent a lot of time submitting
Sunshine requests, waiting for a response and then driving to Bolivar to pick
them up,” Rehwald said of the story. “The response [to the piece] was mixed. I
had one caller accuse me of trying to free a terrorist. For the most part, the
response was positive. I heard from many who said the story got them thinking
that maybe Lammers shouldn’t be serving a 15-year sentence – that maybe much of
what they heard about Lammers in the national media wasn’t accurate. When
Lammers’ mother shared the story on Facebook, she wrote, ‘Thank you, Jackie,
for not treating my son like an animal.’ That meant a lot to me.”
Hanna Smith, a reporter with the Christian County Headliner News, was also
recognized with an Excellence in Legal Journalism Award for the ongoing “Wheels
of Justice” series, which was created to help readers better understand how the
court system works. The series has tackled topics such as check restitution,
post-conviction relief, victim advocates, drug courts, and a profile of county
bailiffs and court security.
“People tend to fear what they don't understand, and the
justice system is a very intricate, difficult world for anyone to comprehend,” Smith
said of the series. “It's also not uncommon for a reader to email me following
a story I've written about a criminal case. Sometimes they are quite angry
about the story because they don't understand the process of charges,
prosecution and sentencing. I always reply to these emails with explanations of
how the justice system works and sometimes refer them to a ‘Wheels of Justice’
story that applies to their question. Typically, the person who was confused
and angry thanks me after.”
Each year, The Missouri Bar honors up to three journalists with the Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards. The Missouri Bar is a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving the legal profession, the law and the administration of justice for all Missourians. Created in 1944 by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, it serves all 30,000 of Missouri’s practicing attorneys. To achieve its mission, The Missouri Bar provides a wide range of services and resources to its members, as well as the media, educators and the citizens of Missouri. To learn more about The Missouri Bar, visit www.mobar.org and www.MissouriLawyersHelp.org.
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102