Searchlight New Mexico and its reporter Ed Williams have won a 2019 Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting from the News Leaders Association.
The national award recognizes investigative reporting that makes a demonstrable difference in local communities. Searchlight placed first among the nation’s news organizations with staffs of 50 or fewer.
“A pattern of failures,” Williams’ investigation of New Mexico’s treatment foster care system, was recognized by NLA. The story triggered a state investigation and led to the shutdown of one of the largest foster care agencies in New Mexico.
“Searchlight has been in existence barely more than a year, so to receive recognition like this is truly an honor,” said Sara Solovitch, Searchlight’s executive editor. “But the real honor is the work — doing journalism to help New Mexico make change. This is hugely encouraging, particularly at a time when journalism — worldwide and in this country — is under fire. It makes us want to take on more.”
The award, Williams said, “underscores our commitment to holding institutions and people in positions of power accountable, especially when it comes to those entrusted with caring for our kids.”
The NLA Awards, formerly the ASNE (American Society of News Editors) and APME (Associated Press Media Editors) Awards, “honor the best in print, digital, photo and video content in 11 categories,” according to a release from the association. The contest drew 526 entries, from which 49 finalists from news outlets of various sizes and platforms around the country were named. Among news organizations with 50 or more staffers, the winner for investigative reporting was the Philadelphia Inquirer, for its report “Toxic City: Sick Schools.”
Of Searchlight’s reporting, the judges wrote in their comments: "This small, feisty organization produced an investigation into New Mexico's private foster care industry that was compelling and expertly written, pulling readers through a complex topic. And it got results: spurring a state investigation and putting the issue front-and-center in the state's gubernatorial race."
For Williams, the award is a big deal, but so is the work. “I'm honored to receive this award, but most of all grateful for the chance to do this kind of work at Searchlight,” he said.
Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, non-partisan newsroom focused on investigating issues of child well-being in New Mexico. It is exclusively funded by foundation and community donations.