Reprinted courtesy of MDDC Press

Sentinel staff dealt with pushbacks and difficulties in reporting high school sexual assault scandal; “would have been easier to drop it”

MDDC honors the Montgomery County Sentinel staff with the Courage in Journalism award for 2019.

A free press cannot be swept aside or silenced. This award honors acts of courage in journalism and strength in adversity while uncovering truth. The Courage in Journalism Award was established in memory of those killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis in 2018 and in honor of those who survived. Please include a summary letter describing the situation — the adversity faced and the actions taken by a journalist or news company to push forward — and the effect the work had.

The entries were judged by MDDC Press Foundation Board members. This year, there were three strong nominations showing strength and courage.

Daniel Kucin Jr. and José Umaña detailed the efforts of the Montgomery County Sentinel staff to cover the scandal and resulting court case involving sexual assault in the junior varsity football locker room at a local high school in Damascus, Maryland. The court case, turned a vocal community insular and defensive as media came asking questions about what happened. News reporter Kathleen Stubbs and sports writer Carlos Alfaro Rodriguez dealt with pushback and difficulties in reporting several stories surrounding the case and the community. The Montgomery County Sentinel team was able to continue its job in reporting, despite attempts to shield those stories from being told.

“The story was not going to be told unless reporters went ahead and investigated it,” Stubbs said.

“The school system, in terms of trying to protect its image, let people forget about it as soon as possible, which people would not be surprised for them doing that. My responsibility as a reporter, with a lot of people wondering what happened, was to do that, and I was truly tested in this.”

Meanwhile, the effects of the news coverage of the court case changed the athletic department’s stance on its handling of the media, and closed access to its players and staff to the publication.

The small, dedicated staff of the Sentinel was undeterred.

The judges noted that the Sentinel’s coverage of a local high school sexual assault scandal “[pushed] back against resistance.]” They continued on to say the staff “had difficulty getting the information and had to work in ways they didn’t normally have to work. [It] took tenacity; would have been easier to drop it.”

About our nominees

“At a difficult time, they got the work done. They struggled to cover it and discerned what they could or couldn’t do. Reporting was good.” -Capital Gazette

“Knocked the ball out of the park with that first editorial. Too often news organizations don’t take those chances.” -The Baltimore Sun

Watch the full MDDC Press Association 2019 Contest Awards Program:

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