Ben Shouse of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader was recognized with a special citation for his series "Black Hills Development."
The award and citation were announced July 8 during the John S. Knight Fellowships Sixth Reunion and Conference at Stanford University. The Knight Fellowships program and the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West are co-sponsors of the award.
The prize is given in the name of James V. Risser, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and director emeritus of the Knight Fellowships program. Risser attended the dinner where the award was announced and praised the series. "Water is the enduring environmental problem of the West, and this Rocky Mountain News series does a magnificent job of exploring the threat of dwindling water supply in Colorado's mountain regions," he said. "It's an ideal first winner of this prize." The winners will be invited to Stanford later in the year to participate in a symposium on the issues raised in the series.
The judges said that the winning Rocky Mountain News entry cast new light on an important subject: the battle over water. Moreover, one judge said, "It was executed at such a high level," integrating stories, photographs, maps and other graphics into a striking project that helped readers understand the issues and the stakes.
Shouse's two-part series on development in the Black Hills showed how new and poorly coordinated development imperils the unique resource of the Black Hills. The judges were particularly impressed by the effort it took for Shouse to assemble the information, by the clarity of the presentation and by the importance of the series in informed community decision-making. "This journalism will have an impact where it occurs," one judge said.
Judges of the contest were Peter Bhatia, executive editor, Portland Oregonian; Geneva Overholser, the Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, University of Missouri; Paul Rogers, environmental writer, San Jose Mercury News; Ray Suarez, senior correspondent, The NewsHour; and Barton H. "Buzz"
Thompson, professor of law and co-director of the Stanford Institute for the Environment.
The Risser Prize was established earlier this year and is open to print, broadcast and online journalists writing about environmental issues in western Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The prize was established in recognition of Risser's outstanding journalism career and his leadership of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists from 1985 until his retirement in 2000. Risser is a former Washington bureau chief of the Des Moines Register, and he wrote frequently and incisively about environmental issues. He has had a particular interest in those issues as they affected the western United States.
Initial funding for the Risser Prize came from contributions from former Knight Fellows and others associated with the program.
In judging the awards, preference is given to stories about environmental issues that are distinctively Western. The judges placed a premium on stories that explained complicated situations, stories that exposed undiscovered or covered-up problems and stories with ramifications beyond the immediate dimensions of the issue being covered.
The Knight Fellowships program annually brings 12 outstanding mid-career U.S. journalists and as many as eight from other countries to study at Stanford in a one-year program. More than 700 journalists have studied at Stanford under the program since it began in 1966. James Bettinger is director of the program. Dawn E. Garcia is deputy director.
The Bill Lane Center for the American West is dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America through research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Reporters Todd Hartman and Jerd Smith, along with photographer Ken Papaleo from the Rocky Mountain News were awarded the prize for "The Last Drop," a five-part series that detailed the degree to which the rivers of Colorado's Rocky Mountains face ominous threats from the thirst of urban development on the Front Range.