IowaWatch accepting nominations for returning Berry, Brubaker awards

URBANDALE, Iowa – IowaWatch is taking nominations for the Stephen Berry and Randy Brubaker Free Press Champion awards. The awards are being presented this year after a break in 2020 due to COVID-19. “We are thrilled to bring these awards back after a year off,” Suzanne Behnke, editor of IowaWatch – the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. “These awards recognize the Iowans who bolster democracy as journalists and open records advocates, often persisting through opposition. I can’t think of a more important time to honor those who do this important public service work on behalf of Iowans.”

Nominations can be sent to Behnke at Suzanne-behnke@iowawatch.org by Oct.

Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

A handful of small Iowa towns with 5,000 or fewer people and not part of a larger metro area bucked the trend in the 2020 census and grew their populations. These towns grew populations at a time when the 2020 census showed Iowa’s urban population growing to 64% of the state’s 3.16 million people. The share of urban dwellers in Iowa was near 61% in both 2010 and 2000, 58% in 1990, and 57% in 1980. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A four-month IowaWatch investigation that included visits to 58 towns of 5,000 or fewer people turned up examples of growing rural communities. One of those growing in population isn’t even incorporated, but counted, none the less, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Political divisions mingle with Bloomfield’s push for vitality

BLOOMFIELD, Iowa – A lot of people were paying attention to Bloomfield, in southern Iowa, a few years ago. “Bloomfield sets sustainable design example for Iowa,” a Jan. 1, 2016, Des Moines Register headline read above a story about a new solar power project to supplement the power Bloomfield’s municipal utility buys from Southern Iowa Electric. 

With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

“Governor Reynolds, Lt. Governor Gregg Celebrate Bloomfield’s New Solar Project,” the Iowa Department of Economic Development and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office titled an Aug. 1, 2018, news release. “Bloomfield has demonstrated exactly the type of innovative and forward thinking we hoped to foster when we released the Iowa Energy Plan in December 2016,” Reynolds said in that release.

Evans: Iowa should stop keeping police discipline secret

The actions of journalists and police officers were in the spotlight last week in a Des Moines courtroom. The scrutiny came at the trial of Andrea Sahouri, a Des Moines Register reporter. She was arrested while covering a chaotic protest last May 31, six days after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The jury sorted through questions and allegations about the actions of Sahouri, who has worked for the Register since 2019, and Officer Luke Wilson, a Des Moines Police Department employee for 18 years. In the end, jurors believed Sahouri, not Wilson. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone made an interesting comment in defending his decision to charge Sahouri: “No one is above the law,” he said. 

The jurors who decided Sahouri did not overstep her rights as a journalist announced their decision in open court.

How IowaWatch alums are shaping COVID-19 coverage across the U.S.

Elderly folks are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. So are jail and prison inmates living in close quarters that allow the virus to easily spread. 

That means elderly inmates face a double whammy of risk. So why was Illinois offering so few reprieves to elderly inmates at a time when the state was letting out hundreds of other prisoners to alleviate crowding? And why does Illinois incarcerate so many older folks to begin with? 

Emily Hoerner is answering such life-and-death questions for Injustice Watch, a Chicago-based nonprofit news outlet that exposes institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality, where she has reported since 2015. 

Hoerner was among IowaWatch’s first interns in 2011 and 2012 as a University of Iowa student, and she is among a long list of IowaWatch alums who are now watchdogging government officials, shining a light on injustices and offering critical information to communities during a pandemic that has upended life across the United States. “IowaWatch was the place where I really first learned about the importance of understanding the nuance in stories.