ATLANTA, GA — At its 60th annual Green Eyeshade banquet near
Atlanta, Ga., the Society of Professional Journalists awarded the
Jackson Free Press three first-place reporting awards — and second-place public
service honors — for in-depth coverage of the late Mayor Frank Melton; domestic
abuse and the murder of Heather Spencer; and the controversial “Two Lakes”
development proposal along the Pearl River.
SPJ’s Green Eyeshade Awards honors top print, broadcast, radio and online
journalism in the southeastern region of the United States, covering 11 states. The
Jackson Free Press was the only Mississippi media outlet honored in this year’s
“It’s amazing to be honored by the Society of Professional Journalists,” editor-in-
chief Donna Ladd said today. “This is the first year we competed in these awards,
and bringing home four for some of our most difficult and often-controversial work
could not be more meaningful. We thank SPJ for its willingness to recognize the
little guy alongside the largest dailies, weeklies and magazines in the southeast.”
Managing editor Ronni Mott won first place in non-deadline reporting among-non-
dailies for her coverage of domestic abuse and the murder of Heather Spencer, an
award she accepted Saturday night on the third anniversary of Spencer’s brutal
murder by her boyfriend George Bell III in the home of his mother, Robbie Bell.
Mott’s 2009 story, “Did She Have to Die?” was the latest in a long series of
investigations and features by the JFP‘s managing editor about domestic abuse in
the Jackson area. In the story, she broke down the earlier abuse and murder of
Spencer, showing the failures by law enforcement, the community and Mississippi
law, creating a roadmap to prevent similar murders in the future.
The reporting team of Ward Schaefer, Adam Lynch and Donna Ladd took first place
in courts and the law reporting, competing against all dailies and non-dailies, for
coverage of the 2009 federal trial of Frank Melton, including detailed stories and
timelines about the incidents leading up to the trial. In 2006, Lynch broke the news
about the duplex destruction on the Jackson Free Press website. The Jackson Free
Press previously has won several awards for Melton coverage from the Association
of Alternative Newsweeklies. See a full archive of the JFP’s Melton coverage at
http://jfp.ms/melton/ including the 2009 stories surrounding the trial that drew
Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd took first place in serious commentary for her essays
about Melton’s trial ( “Live and Learn”), his death (“The Charms of Frank Melton”)
and the young men he “helped” (”Tearing Down the Wrong Walls”).
The reporting and analysis team of Adam Lynch, Ward Schaefer, Donna Ladd and
Todd Stauffer also won a second-place public service award for reporting and
columns in 2009 about the “Two Lakes” project, and particularly for exposing that
proponents of the project were behind the Greater Jackson PAC, which was funding
a mayoral candidate who supported the project without following proper campaign-
finance and disclosure procedures.
Over several stories, the JFP investigated the PAC and was able to reveal just before
the election that would-be Two Lakes developer John McGowan and several others
McGowan Working Partners associates had provided the bulk of the PAC’s funding.
An archive of the JFP’s coverage of the Two Lakes/Pearl River campaign is available
at http://jfp.ms/pearlriver/, including the 2009 stories that led to this award, as
well as a second place in public service from the Association of Alternative
newsweeklies earlier this year.
Since the Jackson Free Press launched in 2002, the paper has won
19 national reporting awards, in addition to these four southeastern regional