The I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence
ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, whose work frequently exposes social injustice and the abuse of power, was presented with the 2011 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence at a ceremony held in conjunction with BU’s College of Communication in October.
At ProPublica, Thompson focuses on poverty, human rights and criminal justice. His award-winning reporting on events in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina helped to uncover a string of alleged hate crimes against African Americans and the link between police and the killings of unarmed civilians in New Orleans.
In the wake of the stories, federal prosecutors opened multiple investigations, eventually charging a private citizen for an allegedly racially motivated shooting, and five active or ex-officers in connection with the killing of local resident Henry Glover.
Understanding the process
Describing his reporting, Thompson has said “I consider my work to be a form of archaeology. I seek to excavate facts that others have buried. Fundamentally, the stories I do are about justice, about those with power harming the less-powerful and getting away with it.”
During his acceptance speech, he added that the work he does takes time: “The big trend is shorter, quicker, dumber stories. By contrast, the work I’ve done is the slow food movement of journalism.”
Thompson spoke about the difficulties of reporting from New Orleans, where corruption is commonplace, and the effort it took to fact-check information and conduct interviews with reluctant sources. Thompson also credited Tim Redmond, executive editor at the Bay Guardian, for teaching him the importance of public records and hard work beyond online research. “The best stories are the synthesis of good interviews and deep digging.”
When asked how he copes with self-doubt on the job he said “It’s really scary to do stories others aren’t. Honestly sometimes you’re worried. Maybe there’s no story there or (you think) ‘I’m chasing the wrong thing,’ but you report against your own thesis.”
Thompson’s nominator for the award described him as “intelligent, measured, courageous and resourceful, displaying a skepticism of authority and a non-sentimental concern for the underdog and a readiness to dig deeply into public records and interviews to uncover instances of injustice – in short, a perfect candidate for an I.F. Stone Medal.”
The 2011 I.F. Stone Medal Selection Committee was chaired by journalist and author John R. (Rick) MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine. The committee also included Robert Kaiser, associate editor for The Washington Post, and Patricia O’Brien, a journalist and author who was a 1974 Nieman Fellow. The group made their selection from recommendations presented by prominent journalists who, by design, remain anonymous and serve for just one year.
More information about I.F. Stone’s life and work can be found online at www.ifstone.org.
Recognizing Young Talent
At the award ceremony, BU journalism graduate student Carly Gelsinger was announced as winner of the I.F. Stone Student Essay Competition on the meaning of journalistic independence. Judges praised the “curiosity, persistence and commitment to rigor” apparent in her submission.
In her essay, Gelsinger wrote: “Independent journalism means I will revere the truth above everything else: above so-called objectivity, above writing stories that sell. I will hold disciplined research as an integral part of the reporting process. I will not be afraid to question people and institutions with a healthy amount of cynicism.”
Read BU graduate student Carly Gelsinger’s winning essay on journalistic independence »