Reporters Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas received first place in investigative reporting for their work on faith-based residential facilities, which are allowed to operate without a license in Missouri. In southern Missouri, where at least 13 schools were identified, five had at least one substantiated report of abuse or neglect.
The reporting led to charges against the owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, a Christian boarding school in southwest Missouri. And at least seven staff members at Agape Boarding School are expected to be charged with roughly 14 counts of assault and other crimes, though the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has recommended 22 people be charged with 65 counts.
Report for America journalists at The Star including Jelani Gibson, Humera Lodhi and Kaitlin Washburn, earned first place for best news series for their reporting on gun violence across the state. The Report for America program places journalists in newsrooms for one to two years to focus on under-covered issues. The team has examined gun violence in Missouri and its relationship to poverty, public health and domestic violence.
The Star also won first place for best front page, business story, feature story, story about rural life or agriculture, sports news story, sports feature photograph and sports photograph.
The newspaper received second place in investigative reporting for a story by reporter Luke Nozicka, who looked into the conviction of Kevin Strickland. The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has since announced they believe Strickland, who has spent more than 40 years in prison, is innocent and should be freed.
“The Truth in Black and White” was also recognized, placing third in the community service category. The series, which garnered national attention, looked at the newspaper’s history in covering communities of color and included an apology for disenfranchising, ignoring and scorning generations of Black Kansas Citians.
The press association also honored Star staff for their coverage of breaking news, education and sports, as well as its visual work including video and photography.