A story you won’t read in tomorrow’s Star-Telegram

Laid-off Fort Worth Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber won two top prizes at Friday night’s 2013 First Amendment Awards Dinner from the Society of Professional Journalists/Fort Worth chapter.

Columnist Lieber, who lost his job after 20 years in January, was the only Star-Telegram staffer who won the contest. SPJ is America’s oldest journalism organization, founded 104 years ago.

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Lieber says he’s not ready to give up on newspapers — or his readers.

Other winners came from Fort Worth Weekly, The Oklahoman, San Antonio Current, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas Watchdog, The Ellis County Press, Texas Public Radio and WFAA-TV, Channel 8.

Lieber won first place in the Opinion/Commentary category for his piece called “Texas Insurance Department has made disciplinary information harder to find.” Lieber revealed that the state agency had hidden information from the public about disciplinary actions against members of the insurance industry. He asked the public to complain to the state about this coverup.

Apparently, enough did.  After the column appeared, the policy, initiated by Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kirtzman, was reversed a few days later and the public information was once again made available. That helped Texas consumers learn whom to avoid in the insurance industry.

Judges from the Indiana chapter of SPJ stated, “A very good example of what a columnist who serves as government watchdog should do – raise enough hell to shame public officials into acting on the public’s behalf.”

Accepting the award, Lieber, who founded consumer rights movement WatchdogNation, told the audience, “I like raising hell.”

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Lieber also won first place for Opening the Books for a story that uses business or public records to report on corporate practices. His winning column – “One DFW travel business takes on another” – traced the secret owners of Oasis Getaway, a Southlake, Texas travel club that charged excessive fees for helping consumers plan trips. The company closed its offices after the column appeared.

The judges said, “It was easy to see the digging involved with specific records cited.”

Accepting the award, Lieber cried out with a smile, “I need a job.”

Last year, Lieber won national, state and local journalism awards for his columns. (Read more here.)

In addition, one of Lieber’s heroes, the late Betty Brink of Fort Worth Weekly, was honored posthumously with the Open Doors Award for lifetime achievement. (Read Lieber’s letter to the newspaper when Brink passed away here.)

When Lieber was laid off in January for economic reasons, readers of the newspaper were never informed. Lieber says he still receives letters, emails and phone calls from readers almost every day asking what happened to him. (Read Fort Worth Weekly’s take here.)

For instance, on the day of the April 19, 2013 SPJ banquet, Lieber received this note from a senior engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics: “I’ve always enjoyed your reporting. I kept clicking on the Star-Telegram link, week after week, thinking you must be on an important assignment and would eventually return. It slowly dawned on me you weren’t there anymore. That’s when I started looking for you. If they’d informed me you’d departed, I’d have looked much sooner. That must be why the Dave Lieber button is still there – it keeps us from suspecting anything and turning our attention away from ST.”

And maybe that’s why you won’t read about Lieber’s latest awards in tomorrow’s Star-Telegram.

Final note: Lieber’s winning pieces were edited by his former editor Lois Norder, now the investigations editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Norder was laid off from the Star-Telegram in August 2012, five months before her columnist. (Read “Lois Norder, One of America’s Best Newspaper Editors.”)

One of America's top journalists

Lois Norder

 

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Comments

  1. Kim Pewitt-Jones says:

    It was a joy to see you win the awards last night! Although it is disheartening to see so many newspapers continue to dismiss investigative reporters and columnists, it is comforting to see you still in the fight! Keep raising hell! Oh..and I love your story about the subscription person:) Looking forward to seeing that in a future column.

  2. Dave Lieber Dave Lieber says:

    Thanks Kim. Sweet of you!