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Missouri journalists recognized for legal content

Two Missouri journalists received Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards from The Missouri Bar during the 150th Annual Missouri Press Association Convention, Oct. 1, 2016, at the Chateau on the Lake in Branson.

Jackie Rehwald, causes reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, was recognized for the article “Behind Bars For Just Thinking? As the Missouri Supreme Court prepares to decide his fate, the News-Leader investigates Blaec Lammers’ case.

The story focuses on the case of Blaec Lammers, who may have inadvertently confessed to a crime he had no intention of committing. While written and published in print, the online version of her article features well-produced new media elements including photography, video interviews, evidence photos and even interrogation videos, which immerse the reader into the detailed story. The piece also shines a light on the larger challenges the criminal justice system faces when it comes to the mentally ill.

“There were so many investigative reports, court documents and videos related to the Blaec Lammers case. I spent a lot of time submitting Sunshine requests, waiting for a response and then driving to Bolivar to pick them up,” Rehwald said of the story. “The response [to the piece] was mixed. I had one caller accuse me of trying to free a terrorist. For the most part, the response was positive. I heard from many who said the story got them thinking that maybe Lammers shouldn’t be serving a 15-year sentence – that maybe much of what they heard about Lammers in the national media wasn’t accurate. When Lammers’ mother shared the story on Facebook, she wrote, ‘Thank you, Jackie, for not treating my son like an animal.’ That meant a lot to me.”

Hanna Smith, a reporter with the Christian County Headliner News, was also recognized with an Excellence in Legal Journalism Award for the ongoing “Wheels of Justice” series, which was created to help readers better understand how the court system works. The series has tackled topics such as check restitution, post-conviction relief, victim advocates, drug courts, and a profile of county bailiffs and court security.

“People tend to fear what they don’t understand, and the justice system is a very intricate, difficult world for anyone to comprehend,” Smith said of the series. “It’s also not uncommon for a reader to email me following a story I’ve written about a criminal case. Sometimes they are quite angry about the story because they don’t understand the process of charges, prosecution and sentencing. I always reply to these emails with explanations of how the justice system works and sometimes refer them to a ‘Wheels of Justice’ story that applies to their question. Typically, the person who was confused and angry thanks me after.”

Click here to learn more about the Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards.

 

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