This special award, which is named in honor of longtime New England journalist and former New England Press Association Executive Director Bob Wallack, recognizes an individual who has an exceptional record of commitment to community journalism. This award celebrates the accomplishments of someone who, over a sustained period of time, has faithfully served the community for which they are responsible and has played an active, constructive role in contributing to its quality of life. Anyone may nominate a colleague, co-worker, subordinate, superior, mentor, retiree, etc., who works or worked in our six-state region and truly exemplifies the ideal of a community journalist, just as Bob Wallack did.
About the Bob Wallack Community Journalism Award
Daily Hampshire Gazette – Northampton, MA
The Daily Item – Lynn, MA
How do you weave the fabric of a community into a tapestry of its triumphs and tragedies? Answer: One stitch at a time, which is what Thor Jourgensen has been doing for 27 years as a reporter for The Daily Item in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Thor is, by any definition a community-oriented reporter committed to giving a voice to residents throughout the Greater Lynn area. His early mentors in the business impressed upon him the importance of stepping aside as a writer and letting the people on whom he reported tell their story. He consistently applies those words of wisdom as he works to craft stories around people who are passionate about their community and the issues each faces.
Thor has not told one person’s story once and then moved on to the next headline or topical issue. He has written about the people who built Lynn, like the Migliaccio family’s three generations, from the immigrant who built a new life in Lynn to the sons who committed their teen years and 20s to carrying on a family legacy through their local florist business.
When he told the story of a Guatemalan congregation rebuilding a giant brick church in Lynn’s center, it was only after telling the stories of Jewish Americans who made the church a temple and brought it to its most glorious heights.
In decades spent reporting on Lynn and surrounding communities, Thor told the story of Lynn’s residents, knitting together tales of struggle and promise. He has repeatedly written about local veterans, like the woman whose face was the last one American soldiers saw before they died on a remote Pacific island. When a national veterans’ organization marked a milestone, Thor made sure the accomplishment could be seen by Item readers on the face of a local Afghan war veteran.
He told the story 20 years ago of a Lynn woman who turned terror at the hands of an abuser into founding an organization providing safe haven to abused women. In 2003, Portal to Hope and the Massachusetts Legislature honored Thor’s commitment to domestic violence prevention reporting.
In 2010 when domestic violence claimed a couple’s life, he told their story through a tragic account of how the local court system missed the warning signs of abuse.
No school child’s achievement, no senior’s hobby, no disenfranchised resident’s struggle is too pedestrian for Thor to report on, stitching the story into the tapestry of life in the city he lives and works in. Thor doesn’t just report on the community, he is an active part of the community.
Some of his greatest rewards of the job come from gratitude expressed by subjects of the more difficult stories for his fair and accurate reporting. And sometimes, he says, “thank you” from a parent, or from the subject of one of his human-interest stories, goes a long way.
These are just a few examples of many throughout Thor’s three decade-long career that demonstrate his reporting experience, the commitment he has made to community journalism, and his body of work which makes him a most worthy recipient of the Bob Wallack Community Journalism Award.
The Enterprise – Brockton, MA
Enterprise Managing Editor Steve Damish began writing about opiate addiction in 2006, when he learned of two Brockton High School students who had died from heroin overdoses – one of them an acclaimed dancer who had performed at the White House.
His Sunday columns about the individuals drew calls and letters from the parents of other overdose victims, many of whom had felt isolated, frustrated and stigmatized, asking that he dig deeper. He did. By attending support groups, visiting with addicts and their families, and studying data. He quickly realized the problem was far worse than people know. He marshaled the resources of the newsroom in what was to become an eight-year effort not only to reveal the breadth and depth of the problem, but to gain support for intervention, treatment and understanding.
Under his direction, the newspaper undertook two ground-breaking series that were the first to expose the prevalence of opioid addiction in southeastern Massachusetts and its impact on communities and families as well as individuals. The results were “Wasted Youth” and “Wasted Youth – A Deadly Surge,” published in 2007 and 2008. The two series revealed that dozens of young adults throughout the Brockton area had died, hundreds had overdosed – and scores of families and communities had been fractured, mostly from the drugs OxyContin and heroin. Both series ran for four days and featured extensive print and online components. The centerpieces for each day’s presentation were profiles of local addicts written by Damish himself.
To report these stories, he spent months visiting with addicts and their families in sober houses, treatment facilities, halfway homes, recovery schools, drug houses and their homes. To reach addicts, Steve would deliver them a Thanksgiving meal at their sober house, pray with them at a friend’s graveside, or sit and hold their hands as they fought through withdrawal and recovery. His personal commitment helped to convince everyone featured in the stories to allow their real names and photos to be used, despite the stigma connected to drug addiction.