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Newspaper Guild honors Kleber as 2012 David S. Barr Award winner

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LINTHICUM, Md. — Joining fellow Freedom Award honorees from The Miami Herald, The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Center for Public Integrity and Boston University, Grady alumnus Shaun Kleber accepted the David S. Barr Award at the 2012 Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America Freedom Fund Award Banquet held Tuesday night at the Maritime Institute’s conference center.

Kleber earned the award for his March 2011 story, “Pencil Me Out,” which chronicled testing irregularities with a diagnostic exam administered to Grady’s junior class in the winter of 2011. As the sole national high school winner, Kleber received $1,000 and an invitation to attend Tuesday’s award ceremony.

Former Southerner managing editor and 2012 Barr Award winner, Shaun Kleber

Kleber’s story was the first of five pieces honored on the night. Each piece was recognized for helping to right a wrong or to correct an injustice.

A trio of journalists from Boston University–Sarah Favot, Jenna Ebersole and Kirsten Berg–won the collegiate Barr Award for “Our Youngest Killers,” an investigative piece exploring the injustice of the life without parole sentencing of juvenile offenders in the state of Massachusetts.

The New York Times reporting duo of Danny Hakim and Russ Buettner accepted an Award of Substantial Distinction in print journalism for “Abused and Used,” a series investigating the deaths of more than 1,200 developmentally disabled patients under state care and documenting the poor, negligent treatment of these patients by the state agencies entrusted with their care.

National Public Radio and The Center for Public Integrity earned an Award of Substantial Distinction in broadcast journalism for “Poisoned Places,” a far-reaching, multimedia project that uncovered the stories of hundreds of communities exposed to pollutants on a daily basis and published for the first time a secret government “watch list” of communities at risk of contracting illnesses from pollutants in their community.

A trio of reporters from The Miami Herald were winners of the Heywood Broun Award, the top professional award presented at the ceremony. Michael Sallah, Carol Marbin-Miller and Rob Barry received the honor for their investigative series, “Neglected to Death,” which uncovered an epidemic pattern of neglect and abuse in Florida’s assisted living facilities that went unreported and unpunished.  The series of stories led to the closure of 12 of the worst offending facilities and prompted massive state reforms. Barry joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal in 2011. Sallah will join the staff of The Washington Post in November.

Debbie Barr, the widow of David S. Barr, the award’s namesake, presented Kleber with his award and introduced him to the audience prior to his acceptance speech.

“I was still a fairly inexperienced journalist when I wrote this story, and this whole experience taught me the inherent element of cooperation in journalism,” Kleber said in his acceptance speech, a speech that concluded with an expression of gratitude to those who helped make the story possible.

Barr Award judge Kendra Marr-Chaikind, Broun Award judge Robert Struckman, Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin-Miller, Miami Herald reporter Michael Sallah, Center for Public Integrity Reporter Jim Morris, New York Times reporter Danny Hakim, former Southerner reporter Shaun Kleber, NPR reporter Elizabeth Shogren, former Boston University reporter Jenna Ebersole, former Boston University reporter Kirsten Berg, Barr Award judge Debbie Barr

“I couldn’t have done this without the help and advice of my fellow staff members and my editors,” Kleber said. “And I owe so much to my two journalism advisers, not just for their guidance with this story, but for all of their lessons, in journalism and life. They taught me about the importance of uncovering and spreading the truth, regardless of controversy. I have to thank my principal, for trusting me enough to let me publish this story, even though he had to deal with the embarrassment it caused. And finally, I’m so grateful to the Newspaper Guild and the judges for this award and the overwhelmingly positive response to my story.”

David S. Barr was the Newspaper Guild’s lawyer from 1971-1997. Committed to the principles of justice and fairness, Barr believed that journalists were ideally suited to promote those virtues in their work.  After Barr died of a heart attack in 1997, the Guild established the Barr Award in 1999 to recognize one high school and one college journalist for outstanding work that promotes social justice.

Kleber is the third Southerner reporter to win the Barr Award in the past six years.  Curry Andrews won in 2007 for a story that explored the resource-strapped Fulton County jail system, and Sophie Cox won the following year for a story that lamented the mismanagement of the Briarcliff Summit federal housing development.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) is credited with being the journalist most responsible for the establishment of the Newspaper Guild, the newspaper writers’ union. As a journalist, Broun championed the disadvantaged and reported tirelessly on social issues.  Even though he was the highest paid columnist in the nation, he nonetheless declared in a 1933 newspaper column that he would “do the best I can” to start a national newspaper writers’ union. He was elected as the Guild’s first president, a position he held until he died of pneumonia on Dec. 18, 1939.

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Newspaper Guild honors Kleber as 2012 David S. Barr Award winner