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Reporter Wins Medill Courage Medal for 'Beyond Rape' Series

April 7, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Plain Dealer newspaper reporter Joanna Connors has been named the 2008 winner of the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for her series "Beyond Rape: A Survivors Journey."

Connors, a 26-year veteran of The Plain Dealer, recounted the story of her 1984 attack and rape to take control of a traumatic event that "was still powerful inside me."

The Medill Medal is awarded annually by Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism to an individual or team of journalists working for a U.S.- based media outlet. The award for best displaying moral, ethical or physical courage in pursuit of a story or series of stories carries a $5,000 honorarium.

Connors' articles -- which ran across 16 pages of The Plain Dealer over a weekend in May -- were not only about the violence she experienced on an empty stage of a Cleveland theatre 23 years ago but also about the crime's perpetrator and issues of race and privilege.

David Francis, the repeat sexual offender sentenced to prison for 30 years for his crimes against Connors, died of cancer before completing his sentence and well before the publication of Connors' series.

Donna Leff, a professor of journalism at Medill and one of the judges for the Medill award, called Connors' account "absolutely compelling…very brave and extremely well written and structured." She pointed to the reporter's "directness in expressing her discomfort with race and class and her sensitivity on those issues."

In a radio interview, Connors said "Beyond Rape" also honors individuals who, during her years as a reporter, "opened their veins" to help her tell difficult but important stories.

In addition to the Medill Medal of Courage, Connors received the Jesse Laventhol Prize for Non-Deadline News Reporting from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Finalists for the 2008 Medill Medal of Courage were Bob Butler, Mary Fricker and Thomas Peele for "The Chauncey Bailey Project" in The Oakland Tribune; Betsy Hiel for reporting on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; and Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry for a four-part series titled "Victory and Ruins" in The Seattle Times.
Topics: University News