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A.C. Thompson, a reporter whose work led to federal charges against seven New Orleans police officers in connection with the shooting of civilians after Hurricane Katrina, will receive Colby College’s 2013 Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism Oct. 27.
Thompson, 41, works for ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. He will accept the award and an honorary Colby doctorate at a formal convocation Sunday, Oct. 27, at 5:30 p.m. in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel. The event, which includes a speech by the recipient, is open to the public.
The Lovejoy Award, given annually since 1952, honors the memory of Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Lovejoy was Colby’s valedictorian in 1826 and an abolitionist newspaper publisher who was killed in Alton, Ill., in 1837 for condemning slavery and defending his right to publish. John Quincy Adams called him America’s first martyr to freedom of the press.
In New Orleans from 2007 to 2010 Thompson probed shootings that he says were not properly investigated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He researched some of the 11 shootings attributed to police officers and revealed that the police department conducted only cursory investigations of those incidents. Police relied heavily on statements made by officers involved, failed to interview civilian witnesses, and neglected to collect physical evidence from the scenes, ProPublica reported.
In a case that became a story line in David Simon’s HBO series Tremé, Thompson wrote about Henry Glover, a 31-year-old African-American New Orleans resident. After being shot by a police officer, Glover was taken to a school where his brother and a neighbor sought aid from a SWAT team. Instead of being helped, Glover was driven to a levee in the car he arrived in, which was later found burned with his remains inside. Five officers were charged in the death of Henry Glover. Three were convicted.
The Nation publishedthat described how “White vigilante justice tore through New Orleans after the storm, but no official investigation has shed light on the violence.” Thompson interviewed members of a vigilante group that built barricades and roamed Algiers Point heavily armed and later boasted about “hunting” African Americans. The story, Thompson wrote, “fits into a broader pattern of violence in which, evidence indicates, at least 11 people were shot. In each case the targets were African-American men, while the shooters, it appears, were all white.”
“A.C. Thompson has focused his considerable reporting skills in some of the nation’s darkest corners,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and chair of the selection committee that chose him. “His work has ranged from exposing police officers who were later charged with shooting unarmed civilians to probes of misconduct in assisted living homes. Throughout, A.C.’s reporting has been courageous and exhaustive. He is an independent thinker, always searching for news that would otherwise go uncovered. That is hard to do, and it takes a particular sort of courage to persist in pursuing a story where others have determined there is none.”
Associated events at Colby Oct. 27 include a panel discussion titled “From JFK to the Marathon Bombing: 50 Years of Crisis Reporting” at 4 p.m. in the Diamond Building. It will feature Marcela Gaviria, PBS Frontline producer; Adam Goldman, Associated Press reporter in the Washington, D.C.; Eric Shawn, anchor and senior correspondent for FOX News; and Mike Pride, retired Concord (N.H.) Monitor editor. The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement will hold a conference for college newspaper editors earlier in the day.
The selection committee that chose Thompson for the award includes Lipinski; Pride; Rebecca Corbett ’74, senior enterprise editor for the New York Times; Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post; David Shribman, vice president and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Professor Dan Shea, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby; and Steve Engelberg, editor-in-chief of ProPublica (who recused himself from the vote).
Last year the Lovejoy Award went to Bob Woodward, who helped break the Watergate story that toppled President Richard Nixon 40 years ago. Past winners include Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR; Jerry Mitchell, whose reporting brought Ku Klux Klansmen to justice for racially motivated murders; Daniel Pearl (posthumous) of the Wall Street Journal; and David Halberstam.