Sun Herald wins prestigious award for child-welfare investigation

Two Sun Herald staffers have been honored with the prestigious President’s Award for their investigation into Mississippi’s child-welfare system.

McClatchy Newspapers announced Friday reporter Wesley Muller and photojournalist John Fitzhugh received the award for “Fostering Secrets,” “a series of powerful stories that shined a light on a government agency that took children from their families based on falsified records and exaggerated claims,” the media company said in a press release.

Fostering Secrets” was published in August 2016. The catalyst was a statistic Muller heard in 2015 — Hancock County had Mississippi’s highest percentage of children in foster care.

“The answers he found were alarming: Evidence that children had been taken from their families based on forged or falsified records and unsubstantiated claims of child abuse,” McClatchy’s press release said. “Muller and Fitzhugh presented their work in a six-part multi-media report that included what the judges called the ‘wrenching personal tales of the mothers and fathers whose children were taken.’”

The impact of the investigative work was felt almost immediately, as state lawmakers introduced a flurry of bills to reform the system.

The McClatchy President’s Awards, now in their 17th year, recognize the best work of the company’s 30 newsrooms nationwide, with particular emphasis on digital accomplishments, innovation, and exemplary reporting, writing, photography and videography.

Eleven President’s Awards were presented Friday to journalists at McClatchy newspapers who uncovered corruption in local government, held leaders and institutions accountable, and told human stories in compelling and original ways.