On Friday the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced that Texas Monthly executive editor Pam Colloff had won the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. This is, of course, not the first major award for Pam in 2013. Just seven months ago she won a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. But the Lyons is possibly even harder to win than an NMA. It’s given once a year to a single journalist or media organization in all the world. In recent years, winners have included an incredibly brave Libyan citizen journalist, Mohammad Nabbous, who was killed during the uprising in his country; and Marcela Turati, whose coverage of the drug war in Mexico for Proceso has been truly admirable. Pam’s award recognizes the remarkable work she’s done in recent years on the subject of wrongful convictions and other innocence cases.
The Nieman fellows, who select the award’s recipient, had this to say about Pam’s work: “Colloff blends painstaking reporting about the mistakes and misconduct committed by law enforcement with wrenching personal details about the shattered lives of those wrongly convicted. When many of her colleagues have moved on from the sensational murder trials, often content that justice has been served, Colloff treads a lonely road, digging through boxes of court documents, reinterviewing witnesses and questioning the motives of prosecutors and the competence of defense attorneys. Her investigations highlight how a system designed to protect can be corrupted into jailing the innocent and letting the guilty roam free, sometimes to kill again. The power and humanity of her stories has helped force reexaminations into several cases and given them an impact far beyond the borders of Texas, where they take place.”
I’m thrilled and incredibly proud of Pam for winning this kind of recognition, which calls attention to two of her greatest virtues: conscience and integrity. I truly can’t think of a better pair of words to describe the way Pam approaches her work. If you’ve read many of her stories over the past sixteen years you’ll know just what I mean (if you haven’t, maybe start here and here). Pam’s dedication to truthfully rendering the lives of her subjects, in all of their complexity, is deeply impressive. It takes a ton of work—coaxing interviews out of reluctant subjects, traveling hundreds of miles for a single detail, poring over mountains of trial transcripts, writing and rewriting draft after draft. But it all comes together in the powerful union of high-stakes public interest reporting and propulsive, compassionate storytelling. Some years ago, thinking of all this gritty work, I started calling Pam “Tenacious P.” Over time, that got shortened to just “Tenacious,” which is generally how I greet her in the hallways here at Texas Monthly, and how I’ll toast her this week for this remarkable accomplishment.