COLUMBIA, MO -- Palestine, Texas, Herald-Press Editor Jeffery Gerritt has won the 2020 Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership, the national News Leaders Association announced Monday.
This second annual NLA Awards combines the previously separate American Society of News Editors and AP Managing Editors awards, among the most coveted in journalism. The editorial writing award is sponsored by The Dallas Morning News in memory of the paper’s longtime editor and publisher Burl Osborne, who died in 2012.
Gerritt won in the non-metro newspaper category for a series of editorials on medical neglect of inmates that sometimes led to their death in Texas county jails before they even had their day in court. The series, labeled "Death Without Conviction," complemented an in-depth series of news stories on the issue.
Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times won in the large circulation category for “Criminal Justice in Los Angeles.”
Judges called Gerritt’s editorials an “unflinching challenge to the bureaucracy of Texas to review and take ownership of in-custody deaths." They added it "produced soul-searching and action by the Texas Rangers and the state legislature.”
The award comes with a $1,250 cash prize. Last month, Gerritt won the National Headliner Award for editorial writing.
“I've been very fortunate – call it lucky – considering the competition,” Gerritt said. “In the midst of COVID-19, awards don't seem to matter much. Still, I'm grateful to the judges for recognizing work that brought to light injustices to people who are too often forgotten.”
Bill Ketter, senior vice president for news at CNHI, LLC, which owns the Palestine Herald-Press, said Gerritt’s editorials were an example of a small newspaper pursuing a big problem in Texas and elsewhere through research, use of public records, persistence and persuasion.
Ketter said the editorials were in the finest tradition of watchdog journalism in seeking to right a wrong. The editorials, he added, were clear, forceful and to the point, bringing a long-festering issue to public attention.
The NLA awards honor the best in print, digital, photo, and video content in 11 categories. The contest drew 455 entries.
The winners and finalists exemplify the “important and powerful work under way in newsrooms across the country, in defiance of the economic trends we hear so much about and in service of the First Amendment,” said NLA President Michael Days, Philadelphia Inquirer vice president for diversity.
The News Leaders Association's headquarters is located at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia.