Legion announces 2016 recipients of top journalism award
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Legion announces 2016 recipients of top journalism award

Reporters from an Atlanta television station, the Marine Corps Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will receive The American Legion’s Fourth Estate Award on Sept. 1 during the organization’s 98th National Convention in Cincinnati.

The Fourth Estate Award has been presented annually by The American Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Nominations in 2016 were considered in three categories: broadcast, print and new media (Internet).

Taking top honor in the broadcast category is NBC-affiliate WXIA out of Atlanta. The station’s chief investigative reporter Brendan Keefe is being recognized for the 10-part series, “911: Lost on the Line.” The 2015 series revealed a serious communications problem between 911 dispatch centers and cell phone callers. The glitch had deadly consequences when Shanell Anderson, a 31-year-old woman, drowned in a sinking car while calling 911. While cell phone towers are able to pinpoint locations, the dispatch centers are sometimes unable to receive that information in a timely manner. Keefe’s reporting has encouraged software developers to launch new applications, Georgia legislators to demand answers and the Federal Communications Commission to call for 9/11 improvements.

“Inside the Gender Experiment,” by Marine Corps Times reporter Hope Hodge Seck, was selected for the print category. The newspaper took an up-close look at the impact the recent requirement to open new combat jobs to female Marines would have in the close-knit community of Marine Corps infantry. Seck, who now works for the website Military.com, was one of only four reporters granted access to the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C. Not only did the series feature candid opinions and personal stories of those impacted, but it included compelling statistics and data pertaining to the physical challenges and success rates of those undergoing infantry training. Elements of the series have been published in USA Today and cited by Navy Sec. Ray Mabus.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Ellen Gabler captured the new media award for her four-part investigative series “Hidden Errors.” The series reported that medical laboratories across the nation are not following basic policies and procedures designed to ensure the accuracy of test results. It included the story of Michael Patterson, who split from his family after a paternity test indicated that he was not the father of his girlfriend’s child. Years later, it was revealed that the laboratory was wrong and that he was indeed the father of the girl. Another couple in Louisiana lost a newborn son because a routine lab test did not show an easily-treatable condition. The many examples shown in both the print and web editions of “Hidden Errors” sparked a powerful reaction in the laboratory community and spurred training efforts, policy reviews and discussions among federal regulators and industry leaders.

“These outstanding works of journalism not only stand far above normal media reporting, but each has also resulted in an outcome that has positively impacted the lives of people and issues," said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett. "These committed journalists have devoted long, hard hours into investigating, researching, writing and producing masterful reports that have truly made a difference.

“I will be honored to present each of them with our highest recognition of journalistic accomplishment. They are a credit to their field.”

Previous winners of the award include CNN, CBS, USA Today, ABC News, C-SPAN, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Life Magazine, among others.