Exclusive: Arizona journalists snag prestigious national award

By Nick R. Martin | February 5th, 2009 | 3:14 pm | No Comments »

Two Arizona reporters will be named winners of a 2008 George Polk Award, one of the most prestigious recognitions in journalism.

According to a memo obtained by HEAT CITY, reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin have learned that they will be given the award for a series titled “Reasonable Doubt,” which was published last July by the East Valley Tribune. The series focused on controversial immigration enforcement tactics of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. It uncovered the office was falling down on violent crime investigations in favor of going after minor immigration infractions.

Tribune staffers today received a memo from editor Chris Coppola announcing the win. However, Coppola asked the staff to sit on the big news because “formal announcement by the organization will be coming in a couple weeks.” The staff e-mail said the pair won in the Justice Reporting category. [Update with full memo after the jump.]

Gabrielson and Giblin were both reporters at the Tribune when the series ran. However, Giblin was cut from the newspaper as part of the its massive layoffs in January. He now writes for the political news startup website, the Arizona Guardian.

Coppola’s e-mail told staffers to congratulate Gabrielson in-house. But it also gave nods to Patti Epler, who edited the project; Jim Ripley, who was the Tribune’s editor when the series ran, and Giblin — all of whom were among the employees forced out last month. (Full disclosure: I was, too.)

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The Polk awards are given out by Long Island University in New York. Last year’s winners include reporters from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, among other news outlets. According to the university’s website, the awards will be given out on April 15.

If you have any other information on the award, please e-mail me. This is a big coup for Arizona journalism and the journalists involved.

Update (6:09 p.m.): HEAT CITY has obtained the full memo. A previous version of this post relied on an account from a source who wished to remain anonymous, however now you can see Coppola’s email for yourself.

From: Coppola, Chris

Sent: Thursday, February 05, 2009 12:00 PM

To: DL – Mesa Editorial; DL – Gilbert Editorial; DL – Scottsdale Editorial

Cc: Moreno, Julie; jripley@cox.net; Green, Reena

Subject: Some great news

In case you have not yet heard, Ryan Gabrielson has been named the recipient of a 2008 George Polk award for journalism in the Justice Reporting category, one of the most prestigious national awards given out each year in journalism.

Ryan received the award along with former Tribune reporter Paul Giblin for their work on the series, “Reasonable Doubt” last year. The series, as you may recall, examined the downside of Sheriff Arpaio’s controversial illegal immigration roundups, including how response times to emergency calls in areas he patrols had spiked upward. Ryan spent months analyzing records and conducting interviews with numerous officials inside the sheriff’s office to producing this outstanding work.

This award is given out by Long Island University’s Journalism Department, and past winners in various categories have included folks like Christiane Amanpour of CNN and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, according to their web site, which I encourage you all to check out to get a better idea of this national award’s prestige.

A formal announcement by the organization will be coming in a couple weeks, so they’ve asked that we wait until then before we say anything publicly. The award will be given out in New York City in April and a large poster display of the work will be on hand.

Please join me in congratulating Ryan for this award, which certainly is an honor for the Tribune as well. Congratulations also to Paul, with whom I exchanged e-mails today. Many of you know he is at the new Arizona Guardian online news site that focuses on state government. He can be reached at pgiblin@arizonaguardian.com. (He said he sometimes still answers the phone, “Tribune newsroom.”)

I also know that many of you here and many others who have since left the Tribune had a part in making that package come together in print and online, including Patti Epler, who was the editor on the project, and Jim Ripley, who backed us all the way, along with photographers, copy editors, page designers, web content producers and graphic artists.

Many thanks also to all of you.

Chris Coppola