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Mountain West News Bureau’s investigation of tribal jails wins award in National Native Media contest

Native American Journalists Association

The Mountain West News Bureau’s investigation of tribal jails has won a third journalism award, gaining recognition in the 2022 National Native Media contest.

A version produced in collaboration with NPR was named the best radio coverage of Native America by a non-Indigenous media organization. It was reported by the bureau’s Nate Hegyi and edited by Cheryl Thompson, NPR’s senior editor for member station investigations.

The investigation revealed that at least 19 people have died in tribal jails overseen by the federal government since 2016. Neglect and inadequate training played major roles in those deaths.

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“Recognition from the Native American Journalists Association is especially meaningful,” said Dave Rosenthal, managing editor of the Mountain West News Bureau. “We want to help amplify Indigenous voices on important issues, like the federal government’s mismanagement of tribal jails.”

Previously, the Public Media Journalists Association selected the collaborative report as the best nationally edited news coverage in 2021.

A related series on tribal jails, reported by Hegyi and Savannah Maher, won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. The stories were named best series among large market radio stations in a region that includes California, Nevada and Hawaii.

Hegyi worked for Nevada Public Radio and Maher for KUNM in Albuquerque.

The series led the Interior Department to order an independent review of management practices at tribal jails. But further reporting by Hegyi showed the review was led by a former Interior official who had become a consultant – and that sparked criticism from some federal lawmakers.

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The bureau is a collaboration of Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico and the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana. It also draws support from eight affiliate stations.

The tribal jail series was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.