TRAVERSE CITY — The Record-Eagle received national recognition for its continuing coverage of Meijer Inc.'s illegal campaign to undermine Acme Township's elected officials during a zoning dispute.
The Society of Professional Journalists gave its Sigma Delta Chi Award for excellence in public service journalism to the newspaper and staff writer Brian McGillivary, who has been reporting on the issue for several years. SPJ is the largest journalism organization in the country.
Journalism educators with at least 10 years of professional experience selected McGillivary's work as the best of entries from newspapers across the country in the 50,000 and under circulation category.
"To receive this honor from peers in the Society of Professional Journalists is the highest form of recognition a writer and newspaper can ever dream about," said Record-Eagle Publisher, Michael Casuscelli. "McGillivary's work and that of our editors exemplifies the dedication to the premise of SPJ, which is to protect the free flow of information to an informed citizenry. This was a difficult story to cover. Our staff had the courage to write about this issue uncovering wrongdoing and defending those who were unjustly chastised. I am truly proud of their efforts."
Bill Ketter, vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., the Record-Eagle's parent company, said the public service award from one of America's premier journalism organizations is "affirmation for the perseverance and courage shown by the Record-Eagle and reporter Brian McGillivary in telling the story of improper influence in local elections and zoning decisions. The award also illustrates why strong, public-minded newspapers are absolutely essential to keeping the process of government — and those who participate in it — open, honest and accountable."
McGillivary's stories showed how Meijer subverted Michigan campaign finance laws when it secretly spent about $100,000 in attempts to manipulate Acme elections in 2005 and 2007. Meijer's illegal conduct in part came to light through depositions in a lawsuit then-Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres filed against the retailer.
Meijer paid Boltres to settle the suit shortly after a mediation panel recommended he be paid a seven-figure amount.
Michigan's secretary of state subsequently ordered Meijer to pay $190,000 in fines and fees, and the retailer also is facing a criminal probe by the Grand Traverse County prosecutor.
In 2008, McGillivary's Meijer/Acme coverage won another national first place award — from the Inland Press Association for explanatory reporting by newspapers in the 25,001-75,000 category.