Oklahoma Watch's award-winning reporters, clockwise from top left, Trevor Brown, Whitney Bryen, Paul Monies, Jennifer Palmer.

The journalists of Oklahoma Watch won eight first-place awards in the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists annual contest.

Trevor Brown of Oklahoma Watch was named the state’s Best Reporter by the Oklahoma SPJ, which announced its awards last week. Brown’s Oklahoma Watch colleagues Whitney Bryen and Jennifer Palmer finished second and third respectively in that category.

Oklahoma Watch’s Paul Monies received the Carter Bradley First Amendment Award for dedication and contributions to press freedom issues throughout his career.

“The reporting staff at Oklahoma Watch has made a difference,” said David Fritze, who oversaw the award-winning work in his role as executive editor. Fritze is retiring this summer and will continue to serve Oklahoma Watch as a consultant. “Their work last year, and this year, is a public service, and all of the leadership here is proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

The 2019 Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists contest was judged by members of the Florida SPJ. A full list of award winners can be found here. The Oklahoma Watch stories that produced first-place awards:

Online Video Journalism

Oklahoma’s high rate of drug addiction has taken a heavy toll on families, including grandparents and great grandparents. In the case of Dedra Ray, left, her granddaughter’s drug addiction left Ray to spend retirement raising her great-granddaughter. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Whitney Bryen, Mashiur Rahaman, Oklahoma Watch. “The Invisibles”

From the judges’ comments: “Giving voice to the voiceless is perhaps the highest and best use of journalism, and ‘The Invisibles’ does it with heart, dignity and superb street reporting. The journalists took the time to build relationships with their subjects and earn their trust. Dedra Ray and her great-granddaughter speak as naturally about drug addiction with video journalist Whitney Bryen as they might with a family member. Mashiur Rahaman’s homeless subjects are so at ease in his company — and he in theirs — that he is able to bring his camera intimately close, taking us with him.”

Online Interactive Graphic or Resource

Jesse Howe, Oklahoma Watch. “Vaccination Rates Vary Widely by School, County”

From the judges’ comments: “Very unique, user-friendly and detailed way to showcase an impressive amount of data.”

Government Reporting

Paul Monies, Oklahoma Watch. “Vaccines Become Untouchable Issue in Oklahoma Politics”

From the judges’ comments: “This article efficiently explains how vaccination became such a hot-button issue in Oklahoma politics. If the reader did not understand how this happened, they will have a much clearer understanding after reading this article, which fairly (shows) all sides on this issue, including the experts.”

General News Reporting

Saint Francis Health System, Norman Regional Health System and AllianceHealth Woodward were among the hospitals or systems that sued patients the most over unpaid bills. Credit: Photo of Saint Francis Hospital: Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World.

Trevor Brown, Oklahoma Watch. “Hospitals Sue Thousands Each Year Over Unpaid Medical Bills”

Criminal Justice Reporting

*Paul Monies, Oklahoma Watch. “District Attorneys Use Twin Groups to Push Criminal Justice Policies”

From the judges’ comments: “Fascinating story about the lack of transparency behind the powerful Oklahoma District Attorneys Association and why that matters.”

Education Reporting

A sign is seen outside of 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma City, where Epic Charter Schools leases 40,000 square feet for administrative use.

*Jennifer Palmer, Oklahoma Watch. “Invisible Classrooms”

From the judges’ comments: “Good watchdog reporting to shed light on how Epic schools manipulated its enrollment. It’s pretty shocking to read former teachers detailing how they were pressured to withdraw students.”

Science, Technology, Health and Environmental Reporting

Trevor Brown, Oklahoma Watch. “Pursuit of Profits in Health Care”

Oklahoma Hospitals Sue Thousands Each Year Over Unpaid Medical Bills

Surprise Medical Bills Hit Many Oklahomans

Stripped-Down Health Plans: Boon for the Uninsured or Path to Financial Crisis?

From the judges’ comments: “Beyond explaining the issue, this series shows what lawmakers have done, or failed to do, to address this issue.”

Business Reporting

Paul Monies, Oklahoma Watch. “Will State’s Opportunity Zones Benefit Mostly the Rich?”

Correction: This post was updated to remove an incorrect reference to judges for the 2019 Oklahoma SPJ’s contest. The contest was judged by members of the Florida SPJ.

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