Column by Chris Graham
Congratulations are in order to Phil and Ellen Winter, whose persistence in their search for information about the workings of the city treasurer office in Waynesboro led to their collection of dozens of pages of e-mails, memos and audit reports, an investigative report in The New Dominion Magazine, more reporting on the matter in the News Virginian, the defeat of Sandee Dixon in her bid for re-election as city treasurer, and recognition for their efforts from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
The Winters are third-place winners in the ASNE’s annual Local Heroes contest, which honors individuals for their work to make local and state government more open and accessible.
The couple was nominated for the award by the News Virginian, whose telling of the story of how the work by the Winters came to light left out an important detail – the involvement of The New Dominion Magazine, the sister print publication of AugustaFreePress.com, in bringing the story involving the treasurer’s office to light.
The Winters came to The New Dominion after striking out in generating interest from the News Virginian in the issue, according to their telling of their relations with the paper to us. I worked the story from there, sifting through the mass of information that the Winters had collected through requests made under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law, then conducting interviews with Dixon, her opponent in the November election, Stephanie Beverage, and city officials who agreed to speak with me on background about their dealings with the treasurer”s office.
We presented our findings in the September issue of The New Dominion, which hit the streets on Sept. 10. Nearly three weeks later, on Sept. 30, the News Virginian published its first report on the problems with management in the treasurer office.
The paper’s retelling of the story in the reporting this week on the award for the Winters from the ASNE makes it appear that the Winters collected information on the treasurer office and then the NV went into reporting mode on Sept. 30 to bring their work to light.
Based on what the couple told me about the apparent lack of interest from the local paper in the issue when the Winters first approached the NV with their research, I’m convinced that the issues with the workings of the treasurer office would not have come to light if we had not done the work that we did leading to our September New Dominion Magazine report.
The Winters deserve the kudos that they have received for what they did to initiate the scrutiny into the treasurer-office matter. Any telling of their story, though, necessarily needs to include mention of the role that The New Dominion played in bringing public attention to the issue.
That the telling in the NV essentially wrote us out of the story entirely makes me feel like we’ve been, well, violated.
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