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COM student journalists receive national award for Boston Phoenix story

The investigative story “Is Bernard Baran Guilty?” and the student magazine The Comment won Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Comment, a magazine published in a graduate workshop, was a national finalist for the Mark of Excellence award. A story written in COM's investigative journalism seminar won best in-depth reporting piece. BU Photo Services

Is Bernard Baran Guilty?” — an investigative journalism piece written by four College of Communication graduates — remains powerful more than a year after publication.

The examination of a Massachusetts man’s conviction for child abuse was written by four graduate students — Dori Berman (COM’04), Carrie Lock (COM’04), Richard Rainey (COM’04), and Lindsay Taub (COM’04) — for a graduate seminar in investigative journalism during the spring 2004 semester. In June, the Boston Phoenix ran the article as a cover story. Last April the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) named it the best in-depth reporting piece by students for Region 1, which includes New England, New York, and parts of Pennsylvania.

And in June 2005, two milestones occurred: the SPJ recognized the students again at the national awards, where “Is Bernard Baran Guilty?” won the Mark of Excellence award for best in-depth reporting piece in the country, and a judge in Worcester began considering Baran’s petition for a new trial.

“Initially, we had no idea if this story would turn into anything at all,” says Taub. “We just thought it had the strongest potential to be a good story.”

Berman, Lock, Rainey, and Taub researched and wrote the piece for the Investigative Journalism Project, a graduate seminar led by Journalism Professors Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff. Baran — an openly gay day-care worker — was convicted of child molestation in 1985; the article explores the issues surrounding the conviction and questions whether the prosecuting attorneys used appropriate investigation techniques.

The piece was among 12 COM publications and articles given a 2004 Region 1 Mark of Excellence Award in April from the SPJ. University students were finalists in six categories and swept three: best nonfiction article, best student magazine, and best online in-depth reporting.

In addition to the first-place national award for “Is Bernard Baran Guilty?” Boston University students also were national finalists for The Comment, the annual magazine produced by students in the graduate student magazine workshop. The issue’s theme was “reversal,” and the stories and essays focused on changes in personal viewpoints or public perceptions; the magazine had taken top honors in the regional competition for the second year in a row.

“These prestigious national awards are just another feather in the cap,” says COM Dean John Schulz. “The Phoenix series was an excellent example of serious and committed journalism, while The Comment publication was one that received tremendous praise.”

The finalists will be recognized at the Mark of Excellence luncheon at the SPJ National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas in October.