Former Times-Picayune projects reporter uses acceptance of national award to call attention to newspaper’s changes

An all-expense-paid trip to New York to accept a prestigious national award for a

Cindy Chang addresses the

Cindy Chang addresses the Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards presented Feb. 4 by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at Columbia University.

yearlong investigation into Louisiana’s prison system should have been a happy occasion for former Times-Picayune special projects reporter Cindy Chang.

Instead, Chang found herself explaining why she and many of the other reporters, photographers, graphic artists and editors who worked on the eight-part series, “Louisiana INCarcerated,” no longer worked at the newspaper:

“This series happened because The Times-Picayune invested resources in it, plain and simple,” Chang told the audience at the Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards presented Feb. 4 by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at Columbia University. “I worked on it more or less full time for nearly a year. There were three other bylined reporters, a photographer/videographer, a graphics artist and about a dozen other staffers who contributed to the project.

“A month later, much of that team was laid off, along with nearly half the newsroom staff. One of the writers was laid off. The photographer was laid off. The graphics artist was laid off. The page designer was laid off. The copy editor was laid off. Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, the two managing editors who were always the driving force behind projects, including this one, were also canned. Here’s your thanks for your great work – a pink slip! The paper/website immediately began hiring young, inexperienced and presumably cheaper replacements.

… “There are still talented people at The Times-Picayune whose instinct is to dig deep. But I fear that will become increasingly difficult as the focus shifts to frenetic blogging, quantity over quality and, eventually, pay-for-clicks.”

Cindy Chang and David Simon at John Jay criminal justice awards.

Cindy Chang and David Simon at John Jay criminal justice awards.

Chang closed her remarks by adding that the series’ team members who kept their jobs or have secured new ones will contribute their portion of the $1,000 prize money to dashTHIRTYdash. Shea has pledged to match that donation.

Chang, who the newspaper sought to retain, but who declined to stay, now covers immigration issues for the Los Angeles Times.

Other John Jay honorees included Mother Jones‘ Shane Bauer, whose article “No Way Out,” examined solitary-confinement practices in California, and writer and TV show producer David Simon, who was awarded the first “Justice Trailblazer” Award for his early crime reporting career at the Baltimore Sun and his subsequent work developing TV series and specials about crime and urban issues, including, “Homicide,” “The Corner,” “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Tremé,” the latter about life in post-Katrina New Orleans. Simon also was an eloquent critic of the newspaper’s decision to end daily publication and slash its staff, writing about it in the Columbia Journalism Review and Gambit.

Last major investigation produced by Times-Picayune before purge wins prestigious national award

Several winners to donate share of prize money to dashTHIRTYdash

Louisiana Incarcerated,” the eight-part expose about the state’s prison system and the LAIncarcerated_LOGOlast major investigative project produced by The Times-Picayune before last year’s mass layoff, has been named the 2012-13 winner of the prestigious John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting.

Several members of the team that produced the report have indicated they will donate their share of the $1,000 prize money to dashTHIRTYdash. Currently, 59 applicants are awaiting a second distribution the non-profit will make once enough donations are received to sufficiently undeLAIncarcerated_screen_shotrwrite it.

Of the core team that produced the series – reporters Cindy Chang, Jonathan Tilove, John Simerman and Jan Moller, photographer Scott Threlkeld, and graphics artist Ryan Smith – only one remains with the newspaper. Of the larger group of 13 who were significantly involved with the project – Chang, Tilove, Simerman, Moller, Threlkeld, Smith, managing editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, photo editor G. Andrew Boyd, city editor Gordon Russell, political editor Tim Morris, designer George Berke, and copy editor Katherine Hart – seven were laid off (although one was subsequently rehired).

JohnJay_LOGOThe award, sponsored by the country’s preeminent academic institution on criminal justice, honors investigative, feature and enterprise journalism that significantly enhances public understanding of criminal justice issues. It is administered by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay, and judged by a panel of leading journalists and educators.

“Louisiana is the world prison capital,” an introduction to the series begins. “The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s, and 20 times Germany’s. The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash.” The series fueled public support for passage of a state bill making some nonviolent offenders eligible for earlier parole, according to the news release announcing the award.

CindyChang

Former Times-Picayune projects reporter Cindy Chang is now at the L.A. Times

Chang, who now covers immigration for the Los Angeles Times, will travel to New York to accept the award Feb. 4. She’ll likely rub elbows with David Simon, creator of the HBO series “Treme,” about post-Katrina New Orleans. Simons, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, also created HBO’s “The Wire” and is being recognized for his career contribution to criminal justice journalism.

Credit card donations to dashTHIRTYdash may be made securely online at https://donationpay.org/dashthirtydash. Donations by check should be made payable to the organization’s fiscal sponsor, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans – with “dash30dash” written in the memo line – & mailed to the CAC, c/o Nanette R. Saucier, Director of Accounting & Financial Services, 900 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130-3908.