HUD Secretary Carson visit it Cairo

HUD Secretary Ben Carson speaks at a public forum in Cairo Jr./Sr. High School on Tuesday as Mayor Tyrone Coleman listens.

CARBONDALE — The Southern Illinoisan was one of two newspapers in the country named winners of the sixth annual Associated Press Media Editors’ Community Journalism Public Service Initiative.

The Southern and Unalaska Community Broadcasting Inc. (KUCB Radio) in Alaska were named as winners of $2,500 grants plus expenses to attend the annual ASNE-APME-APPM News Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

“The judges felt that these two news organizations presented totally different projects, but were both equally deserving of the honor,” Joe Hight, chairman of the grant project and judging panel this year, said in a news release from APME. “They and the other entrants typify the outstanding public service work that smaller news organizations are doing in this country. APME continues to honor them through these grants.”

The grant will support The Southern Illinoisan's ongoing coverage in Cairo and other issues concerning rural public housing. 

“This newsroom’s powerful award-winning watchdog work on conditions in Cairo has already drawn a lot of outside attention and praise. Best of all, HUD took action against corrupt housing officials in the face of evidence documented by the newspaper,” Cate Barron, a grant judge and vice president for content for PA Media Group, said in the release. “Now, The (Southern) Illinoisan wants to take its investigation to another level, using multimedia to examine conditions in neglected public housing developments throughout the region. … With the newsroom’s track record of dramatic results, we are sure the funding will be put to good use.”

The Southern reporter Molly Parker has been covering the issues in Cairo since 2015. In April of this year, HUD announced it was going to tear down the McBride and Elmwood housing complexes and help residents find housing that is safe and decent. 

“Sometimes, when you live in a rural community and work for a small paper, it can feel like you have to knock at the door a little bit longer to get anyone's attention. But I think this project shows that local journalism and community engagement can bring about change. I look forward to continuing our work in Cairo while also shining a broader light on affordable housing challenges in the Heartland,” Parker said.

Since HUD made its announcement, major news organizations from all over the country have picked up on the story.

“I'm proud of the work Molly has done on this incredible project,” said Tom English, executive editor for The Southern. “She, along with Richard Sitler and Isaac Smith, deserves a lot of praise for what they’ve done. I’m happy Molly is getting recognized for all the hours, days and weeks that she has put into it. Molly is very deserving of this — and she’s earned everything that has come with it.”

The Unalaska Community Broadcasting Inc. won for its project to record the history of the Unangax people, who were forced to evacuate and then were interned after the bombing of Dutch Harbor in Alaska'a Aleutian Chain during World War II.

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