Messenger publisher earns national award for editorial on controversial sex abuse case
ATLANTA—Suzanne Dean, publisher of the Sanpete Messenger, is the recipient of a Golden Dozen award for editorial writing from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).
The prize, for an editorial about an explosive sex abuse case at Gunnison Valley High School in 2018, was presented June 22 at the ISWNE national convention at Emory University in Atlanta.
A dozen editorials or editorial columns were selected from about 75 submissions. The entries came from small newspapers, mostly from the United States and Canada, but some were also from Great Britain and other English-speaking countries around the world.
The judge was Phil Hudgins of Gainsville, Georgia, a retired journalist who was a former weekly newspaper publisher, writer for USA Today and writing coach for a group of small newspapers. Hudgins also spent a year at Harvard University as a Nieman fellow under Harvard’s journalism fellowship program.
The headline of the winning editorial said, ““Gunnison residents should calm down, allow appropriate officials to respond to abuse case.”
The editorial arose out of the arrest and prosecution of three teenagers in connection with a sexual assault on another teenager on the Gunnison High School football field in October 2018.
After the arrests, at least 15 other students came forward to report the same youth who was the main perpetrator in the assault had also assaulted them in the past.
The case pitted factions in the community against each other.
The father of the primary defendant in the case was a coach at the high school and the bishop of an LDS ward in the Gunnison Valley.
The parent of the boy who reported the assault belonged to an evangelical Christian congregation in the Gunnison Valley.
And the pastor of the Christian congregation was also the school resource officer at the high school and the investigating officer in the assaults.
Charges started flying back and forth, both in public meetings and social media, as residents lined up to support one side or the other in the case.”
The lead paragraph of the editorial said, “It’s time for everybody in the Gunnison Valley who is up in arms about the recent sex abuse case to calm down and join forces with the individuals and organizations working to remediate the situation.”
The editorial added, “Instead of condemning what happened, or what people think happened, it’s time to fix the problems and prevent them from happening again.”
The judge said, “Sometimes the goal of an opinion writer is to calm people down. That’s what Suzanne Dean accomplished in her well-written editorial targeting people upset about a sexual assault case at the high school.”
It was Dean’s third Golden Dozen prize. She was also a winner in 2004 and 2009.
The win was the fifth for the Sanpete Messenger over the past 18 years. Lloyd Call, associate publisher of the paper, and John Hales, former managing editor, have each won one Golden Dozen award.