The 28th Aronson Awards | 2018 Honoring journalism & cartooning released in 2017 The James Aronson Awards for Social Justice Journalism honor original, written English-language reporting from the U.S. media that brings to light widespread injustices, their human consequences, underlying causes, and possible reforms. Slide Awardees and Judges 2018 Winners with Directors and Judges Slide Herb Boyd Herb Boyd - Keynote and Outstanding Career Achievement Award Slide Katti Gray Dori Cohen Katti Gray and Dori Cohen Slide Wayne Dawkins Wayne Dawkins Slide Blanca and Herb Blanca Vázquez and Herb Boyd Slide Ronnie Polaneczky Ronnie Polaneczky Slide Tami and Blanca Tami Gold and Blanca Vázquez Slide Dani McClain Dani McClain Slide Black Births Matter image Dani and Katti Katti Gray and image from Zoe Carpenter and Dani McClain's Black Births Matter

Herb Boyd, Keynote and Outstanding Career Achievement Award

Herb Boyd

Herb Boyd
Herb Boyd is a recognized journalist, historian, activist, and author of 23 books. His award-winning books give profound meaning to the Black experience in American life, from We Shall Overcome: A History of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panthers for Beginners to biographies of James Baldwin, Sugar Ray Robinson and others.  This year his profile has catapulted even further with the release of his latest book, Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self Determination. Part memoir, part love letter, part historical chronicle, Boyd shares his reflections on this iconic American city and explains in detail the significant contributions African Americans have made to Detroit and Detroit to the nation.

Social Justice Journalism Awards

Sold for Parts, Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes
ProPublica and NPR

A riveting series about the duplicity of American companies like Case Farms in Ohio and insurance companies in Florida who recruit undocumented workers and then report them to immigration when they are injured or attempt to organize. The writers travel to Tectitán, a Mayan village in Guatemala, where Case Farms is a familiar reference. Through first person accounts they tell the stories of workers and families bearing the scars of a brutal, U.S. supported military dictatorship and its aftershocks, and their flight to the north to escape violence, only to find themselves subjected to inhumane conditions, exploitation and injuries.

Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes is a correspondent with NPR’s Investigations Unit and focuses on workplace safety, coal mine safety and workers’ compensation. Berkes spent 20 years covering the American West for NPR and 10 years as the network’s first rural America correspondent.  He has also covered eight Olympics games.  Berkes has garnered more than 30 national awards for breaking news, and investigative, health care, science, sports and business reporting.  He was awarded a Nieman Foundation Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University in 1997.

Michael Grabell

Michael Grabell covers economic issues, labor, immigration and trade for ProPublica. He has reported on the ground from more than 30 states, as well as some of the remotest villages in Alaska and Guatemala. His stories about the dangers faced by temp workers and the dismantling of workers’ comp have won several awards, including the Gerald Loeb Award for business journalism and an IRE Medal for investigative reporting. He is a three-time finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

Why we did this story:
For years, we’d been hearing about how companies use immigration status to get rid of undocumented workers when they get injured, fight for stolen wages or try to form a union. We wanted to show how this works beyond just allegations against fly-by-night contractors, how it becomes a way of doing business and how federal and state laws actually encourage it. In doing some initial reporting, Michael heard many tips about a chicken company that had long recruited Guatemalan immigrants and had stifled several attempts by workers pushing for better conditions. He also got some key documents related to a story he and Howard had started looking into two years earlier as part of a project on workers’ comp. Together, they obtained data from Florida and tracked down documents from more than 1,000 court cases, showing how insurance companies were using a state law to get injured immigrant workers arrested, and in some cases deported.

Sold for Parts
They Got Hurt at Work – Then They Got Deported
Who Would Pay $26,000 to Work in a Chicken Plant?

The Secession Movement in Education, Emmanuel Felton
The Nation in partnership with the Hechinger Report

A groundbreaking story about how officials in Jefferson County, Alabama have created six new school districts that hoard resources for white children at the expense of black and Hispanic children—exposing the federal government’s retreat from the principle of school integration that Brown vs. Board of Education heralded.

Emmanuel Felton

Emmanuel Felton is a staff writer at the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit newsroom that covers inequality and innovation in education. He reports on – and helps oversee the organization’s coverage of – racial disparities in education. He has written for a number of web and print outlets including The Nation, The Atlantic and Pacific Standard. A native of New Orleans, Emmanuel earned his undergraduate degree from Emory University, before earning a Masters Degree in Journalism at Columbia University.

Why I wrote the story:
School segregation has received renewed interest among education reporters, but the coverage has not examined the role of the federal government in allowing the re- segregation of American schools. At the time we began our investigation in 2016, the Obama administration had revived an old desegregation case in Cleveland, Mississippi. We wondered whether the Justice Department and courts had been just as active elsewhere. After a year of data analysis and reporting, we learned the opposite was true. In many cases, the federal government under several presidential administrations had stood by as districts flouted their legal obligations and allowed segregated schools to flourish.

Sold Short, Lisa Riordan Seville and Lukas Vrbka
BuzzFeed News

Examines how discrimination in housing is at the root of the housing boom in gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods. The authors take on the journalistic challenge of contextualizing the experiences of a star broker from the cable TV show Million Dollar Listing NY, eager white homebuyers, and the African American and Latino homeowners pushed out of the communities they created.

Lisa Riordan SevilleLisa Riordan Seville is an independent writer and producer in Brooklyn, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NBC News, WNYC Public Radio, Buzzfeed News, The Guardian, The Nation and VICE, among other outlets. Her work has been supported by the Investigative Fund for The Nation Institute, the Open Society Foundations, California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships and the Urban Reporting Grants Program from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, her alma mater.


Lukas Vrbka is a reporter and researcher based in New York City. Previously on staff at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, his reporting has appeared in BuzzFeed News and City Limits and has been supported by the Urban Reporting Grant program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.


Why we wrote this story:
It’s no secret that the fabric of New York is changing fast. In Brooklyn in particular, soaring real estate prices, new shops and new people have fired up heated debates about gentrification. Yet the step-by-step process of how neighborhoods change is often invisible. We wanted to better understand how it worked–as reporters, but also as two white residents of Brooklyn who are part of that shift. We began by taking a close look at a group of Brooklyn houses that had shot up in value in less than a year. We found a pattern that surprised us: nearly all of the properties had recently been owned by residents of color on the verge of foreclosure. As we dove into court documents and property records, we realized that a story we had thought of as uniquely of the moment was in fact just the latest chapter in a largely overlooked history of race and homeownership that has been unfolding in this city, and this country, for decades.

Black Births Matter, Zoe Carpenter and Dani McClain
The Nation

Black infants in the U.S. are twice as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday. The writers document how it is racism rather than race fueling this national health crisis. In a personal meditation McClain reflects on her own experiences as she fights for a healthy pregnancy and on what it is about the American experience that “tears at the black body.”

Zoe CarpenterZoe Carpenter is an editor and reporter for The Nation. Her writing on public health, environmental issues, politics, and culture has also appeared in Rolling Stone, Narratively, and Guernica. She lives in Washington D.C.



Dani McClainDani McClain writes and reports on race, reproductive health and activism. She is a contributing writer at The Nation and a fellow with The Nation Institute. Her feature reporting has received awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. McClain has a master’s degree from Columbia’s journalism school and reported on education while on staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She is working on a book about black motherhood with Nation Books.

Why we wrote this story:
Many people think about health as a consequence of individual choices—what you eat, how much exercise you get, whether you smoke or drink. But when it comes to infant and maternal mortality rates in the United States, individual actions don’t explain the persistence of a wide racial gap. We wanted to understand why black women and babies are so much more likely to die in the United States than their white counterparts. Ultimately our aim was to illuminate the growing body of research pointing to stress and racism, rather than race itself, as a defining factor.

As a reproductive health reporter, McClain knew the bleak maternal health statistics. But it took being pregnant herself to drive home the risks black women face in trying to safely bring their children into the world. Her own efforts to navigate health challenges and find culturally competent birth support became an useful narrative device to show how chronic stress and implicit bias on the part of health professionals can lead to poor health outcomes for black women and infants. For Carpenter, Milwaukee—one of the most segregated cities in America—presented a striking example of the impact of institutional racism on infant mortality rates, and of how difficult it is for elected officials and advocates to reverse the trend.

What’s Killing Black Infants
What It’s Like To Be Black and Pregnant

Falling Off the Cliff, Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Media Network

A beautifully written and heart-wrenching series about the plight of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, documenting difficulties parents face in getting quality care for their offspring, from underpaid and underperforming caregivers to the enormous problems of how to plan for the death of aging parents.

Columnist Ronnie Polaneczky offers a front-steps perspective on every aspect of Philadelphia life – as a long-time city resident, public-school parent, loyal fan of the city’s sports teams, proud supporter of the city’s diverse cultural institutions and vocal critic of the powers that be. As winner of the 2015 Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing, she dug deep into the lives of intellectually disabled adults and their aging parents. The result of her research is “Falling Off the Cliff,” a four-part series published in December 2017.

Ronnie Polaneczky photographed in the Photo Studio at 801 Market Street, February 1st, 2016, in Philadelphia. ( Jessica Griffin / Staff Photographer )

Columnist Ronnie Polaneczky offers a front-steps perspective on every aspect of Philadelphia life – as a long-time city resident, public-school parent, loyal fan of the city’s sports teams, proud supporter of the city’s diverse cultural institutions and vocal critic of the powers that be. As winner of the 2015 Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing, she dug deep into the lives of intellectually disabled adults and their aging parents. The result of her research is “Falling Off the Cliff,” a four-part series published in December 2017.

Why I wrote the story:
I wrote this series because I was stunned to learn that, as children with intellectual and developmental adults age into adulthood and well beyond, they become almost invisible to the greater population. I learned this after writing about a severely intellectually disabled adult named Christina, whose death by neglect from her state-paid caretaker, was utterly ignored by local law and social-services agencies.  After my story about Christina was published (it was called “The Death No One Cares About”), countless parents reached out to share their own horror stories about caregiver abuse and agency incompetence. About political and public indifference to the needs of intellectually disabled adults. And about the lack of compassion and resources for elderly parents who have become too old and frail to care for their aging, impaired children.

I felt compelled to tell the stories of these invisible men and women and their families. The result is “Falling Off the Cliff,” a four-part series that looks at what happens to profoundly disabled children as they grow into adulthood – and how their aging families fret over what will happen to these always vulnerable children once they themselves are gone.

Cartooning with a Conscience

Steve Sack

Steve Sack has been the editorial cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune since 1981. The St. Paul native has won an assortment of national honors for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The just-released collection of his work, The First and Only Book of Sack — 36 Years of Cartoons for the Star Tribune was recently named Best non-Fiction Book by the Minnesota Book Awards.

Steve Sack Cartoon Scrawny paper towel roll Support PRSteve Sack cartoon tax cutsSteve Sack cartoon opiod crisis tornado








IMA Documentary Winner

Dori CohenDori CohenFreelance Nation 

“No Shifts, No Boss, No Limits” reads a giant billboard in one of the main transportation hubs of NYC. From adjunct professors to taxi drivers, many people are finding themselves outside of the traditional employment model, with no benefits and little job security. This transformation is further exasperated by technological developments and the rise of the “gig economy.” Freelance Nation explores the other side of the popular “sharing economies” from the perspective of Uber drivers as they struggle to organize for workers’ rights being eroded under the guise of freedom and opportunity.

Dori Cohen is a documentary filmmaker and MFA student at Hunter College Integrated Media Arts program. She is the co-founder of Framing The Cause Pictures, a production company that partners with organizations to tell stories that strengthen social justice initiatives.

Why this film:
Uber, and others apps like it, are often hailed as great disrupters, which have drastically altered established industries. However, these disruptions come at a cost. Although they are convenient and often cheaper, someone is paying the price. I thought it was important to look at these popular new technologies from the employees perspective. Uber is just one example of a general trend toward freelance work, where employees don’t get benefits and have little security. Companies are taking advantage of a loophole in the law and my intention in making this film was to shed light on that. I made this film because I know of many people across industries, including myself, who are dealing with this problem.

Undergraduate Student Journalism Award

Nicholas AugustineNicholas Augustine
A Hunter College senior, Roosevelt Scholar and Media Studies/Journalism and Political Science major, Augustine covered the South Bronx neighborhoods of Longwood and Hunts Point as a reporter at the Hunts Point Express. While there, he reported on the governor’s plans for the Hunts Point Market and the failures of “Vision Zero” for poor communities like Hunts Point, among other stories.