Look, we’re pretty sure that Hank would not want us, his coworkers, to crow about the fact that he just won a very cool journalism award for his meticulous explainer/exposé of the county’s shambolic redistricting process, and of the suspicious provenance of some folks who tried to influence that process. 

He wouldn’t want the focus on himself. But guess what — Hank’s not here today! And in our estimation, the award is well-deserved. So we’re going to go ahead and publish the following press release from the Humboldt Journalism Project, a nonprofit under the DreamMaker umbrella of The Ink People.

This honor, known as 40th Award, recognizes work that affects people in the lower 40 percent of the income scale. This is the award’s inaugural year.

Congrats, Hank! And congratulations, also, to Ryan Hutson of Redheaded Blackbelt, whose series on St. Joseph Hospital’s struggles during the summer COVID-19 surge earned honorable mention from the panel of judges.

Here’s the press release:

Hank Sims of the Lost Coast Outpost and Ryan Hutson of the Redheaded Blackbelt are the first two winners of the Humboldt Journalism Project’s 40th Award, the project announced Wednesday.
Sims won first place for his coverage of local political redistricting, headlined “The County’s Redistricting Process Has Been a Shambles, and the Maps it is Now Considering are Both Measurably Worse than the Status Quo.

Sims’ article and his follow up coverage examined flaws in the process, including how some voters could lose their voice by being lumped together inappropriately. Amid increasing scrutiny by the Lost Coast Outpost and other media outlets, the county ultimately abandoned the draft maps and kept the original districts almost unchanged.

Judges praised Sims’ “dogged determination” and his ability to explain the topic’s importance.

Hutson won an honorable mention for her three-part series on troubles at St. Joseph Hospital as it struggled with staff shortages amid the summer surge in Covid-19 patients.

The judges lauded Huston’s “deep passion reporting” documenting conditions at the hospital.

The contest was judged by Dale Maharidge, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist who for many years lived part time in Petrolia, and Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, public editor at PBS and a graduate of Humboldt State University, before its polytechnic name change.

Sandoval-Palos also sits on the advisory panel of the Humboldt Journalism Project, a nonprofit that supports local journalism relevant to those who are sometimes left behind economically. It is a DreamMaker Project of The Ink People.

This was the first year of its 40th Award, so named because it recognizes work that affects people in the lower 40 percent of the income scale.

The Humboldt Journalism Project also gives reporting grants, and it has grant money available now for freelance journalists in broadcast, print and online. To qualify, journalists must find an editor who agrees to publish their piece, and then they can apply for grant funding to report it. For more details, email journalism@inkpeople.org.

In their more detailed remarks on the award recipients, Maharidge and Sandoval-Palos wrote: “Local redistricting is a story that many news outlets ignore. Back in the day an editor would have said “can you keep it to twelve inches?” (Very short, some six hundred words.) These days understaffed newsrooms don’t have the person-power even if editors are willing to dig into this vital aspect of democracy. Hank Sims approached the story with dogged determination and showed the importance of this process. At first look it might not appear to be relevant to those in the lower 40 percent of the income scale, but it most certainly is. If economically stressed communities are broken up into different districts, it means they don’t have a voice. For example, Sims notes that in Humboldt County, home to the two largest native American tribes in California, that population was not identified by the makers of the draft redistricting maps. It was great that he had a journalistic seat at the table with this story.”

Of Hutson, Sandoval-Palos and Maharidge wrote: “In the midst of an event of historic and global proportion — the Covid-19 pandemic — Hutson brought the story home to one hospital in Humboldt County. Reporting on hospitals is difficult, but Hutson broke through in her work on documenting conditions at St. Joseph’s Hospital. When administrators would not allow access, Hutson gained the trust of nurses and others to get the story about staffing shortages, as well as shortcomings in safety protocols. The story reflects deep reporting passion on the part of Hutson, and it provided a valuable insight into a hospital relied upon by many in the lower income bracket in Humboldt County.”

The 40th Award contest will be held again this year, and the deadline to enter work done in 2022 will be Jan. 31, 2023. More details are on the Humboldt Journalism Project’s Ink People page, at https://www.inkpeople.org/dreammaker-data/r13elwey9g5smiq6ostw3qt30d0azc

As with this year’s contest, first place carries a prize of $1,500 and the honorable mention comes with $500. Both prizes are awarded to the individual journalist or journalists, not the outlets they report for.