Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Public Notices Matter | National award recognition

The following article appeared in the March 6, 2017 issue of the Reporter & Farmer, the newspaper where I work. It was written by my colleague Emre K. Erku. 

Another story about this award appeared in a neighboring daily newspaper which you can read here.

Local public notice article leads to writer’s national recognition 

Amanda Fanger wins 2017 Public Notice Journalism Award

Reporter & Farmer staff writer Amanda Fanger is now a nationally acclaimed journalist.

For her efforts in uncovering embezzlement allegations within the government body of Grenville last spring, Fanger was named winner of the 2017 Public Notice Journalism Award by the Public Notice Resource Center Feb. 27.

Alongside national recognition, she’ll be honored at the National Press Club during a free trip to Washington, D.C. March 16.

“It’s almost too much to take in,” said Fanger of her selection. “It makes me stop and realize how much I’ve put into my work. There’s so many moving components to a newspaper; I don’t know if people assume we’re just handed these stories.”

According to the PNRC, Fanger’s selection was based on her ability to scratch “below the surface of a public notice.” This included spending months investigating a tip concerning a local financial officer allegedly carrying out “employee dishonesty,” which was noted in the official monthly Grenville town proceedings printed in the public notice section of the Reporter & Farmer on March 21 last year.

This dishonesty stemmed from an investigation conducted by the South Dakota Department of Legislative Audit, which Fanger later used to trace the finance officer to $72,000 worth of pocketed funds allegedly, as well as the use of a stolen credit card.

“It is great to see a young reporter like Amanda searching through the public notices in search of a story,” said John and LeAnn Suhr, co-publishers of the Reporter & Farmer. “Reporters like her know the importance public notices play in the role of informing the taxpayers of what their elected officials are doing. While some may have overlooked the dishonesty, Amanda dove in to tell the investigative story. She is well deserving of the honor to be selected for this national award.”

The selection process required a highly prestigious judge’s circle to determine a winner. This included David Jackson, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter of the Chicago Tribune; Marc Karlinsky, editor of the Chicago Law Bulletin and Chicago Lawyer; and Charles Whitaker, associate dean and journalism professor of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

“I’m awestruck,” Fanger admitted. “Thinking somebody of that caliber would read my work, and now they’re judging it? In this career, I still get these days where I feel I don’t have any idea of what I’m doing... This validates it.”

What judges don’t know is that it was less than a year prior to the Grenville case that Fanger proposed to publisher John Suhr that the Day County newspaper cover more than just Webster City Council proceedings in person.

Before, the Reporter & Farmer strictly published town proceedings in the minutes, as well as in a short, inside- the-covers overview segment called “Town Round Up.”Once given the green light, not only was the small town of Grenville thrown into the loop, it helped personalize Fanger’s efforts.

“It put faces to the names of the people I was dealing with,” said Fanger. “It’s important for the public to know what’s going on. I have this really deep conviction that the newspaper, they play a very important role in society. They are the watchdog.” Fanger also said the Grenville case was an instance where the neighborly trust you might find in rural America was exploited and that in her small part of the world her drive is to “keep that from happening.”

“Even in a small town, you can’t cut corners,” she said. “I don’t think that every town board is out to get their neighbor, but it’s good to keep their feet to the fire.”

And Fanger is no stranger to small town dwellings.Fanger first entered the newspaper industry via the Onida Watchman, the newspaper of her hometown of 681 people. It took little more than a year for her to receive the award for Outstanding Young Journalist by the South Dakota Newspaper Association in 2009. She’s also a winner of many various SDNA awards throughout her nearly 10-year career.

As for the Reporter & Farmer, Fanger’s national recognition adds another notch to its accolades.

“The newspaper now has two prestigious national awards under its belt,” the Suhrs noted. “The first was for Outstanding Achievement in Economic Development for the coverage and promotion of the Webster medical complex in 1996 and now the award Amanda will be bringing home.”


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