The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Michigan named the pair winners of the 2019 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for “Local Reporting.” The awards honor reporting that advances civic engagement and bolsters the work of young reporters producing powerful storytelling in the spirit of a free press.
Smith and Wells were the hosts of Believed and the lead reporters in Michigan Radio’s coverage of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse saga as it played out in the courts, in the lives of the survivors, and through the subsequent fall out at Michigan State University. The Believed podcast was a collaboration from Michigan Radio and NPR which sought to share the stories of the survivors and families impacted by Nassar’s abuse of young women and athletes.
Author and journalist Anna Quindlen, a Livingston Award national judge, said of the Believed team, “Big stories wind up told in broad strokes. Instead of amplifying their power, that sometimes makes them less accessible as human drama. Lindsey Smith and Kate Wells of Michigan Radio decided to go the other way, which is why their pieces on Larry Nassar grabbed me by the throat.
“They illuminate, not the judicial process, but the people: the uber-mom who won’t back down from a fight, the father who never suspected and whose torment suffuses his voice, the investigators and, of course, the survivors," Quindlen said. "These reporters use the small details of a big story to give it a human scale.”
In addition to the Local Reporting category, the Livingston Awards recognize outstanding achievement in National and International Reporting by young journalists. Those prizes were awarded to Chris Outcalt of The Atavist Magazine for “Murder at the Alcatraz of the Rockies,” and Davey Alba of Buzzfeed News for “How Duterte Used Facebook to Fuel the Philippine Drug War,” respectively.
The Livingston Awards for Young Journalists are the most prestigious honors for professional journalists under the age of 35 and are the largest all-media, general reporting prizes in American journalism. Entries from print, online, visual and audio storytelling are judged against one another, as technology blurs distinctions between traditional platforms. The Livingston Awards are a program of Wallace House at the University of Michigan, home to the Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists and the Wallace House Presents event series.