Raising the Barr (Award)

By Roy Harris
ASBPE Foundation President

When jurors for this year’s Stephen Barr Award selected American Farriers Journal editor Frank Lessiter — for his remarkable series on equine abuse, a shameful but little-known part of competitions among “gaited horses” — Lessiter became the sixth business-to-business writer chosen to receive ASBPE’s top individual prize for feature writing.

Further, the latest winner once again extended the widely diverse range of work honored with the Stephen Barr Award, which is keyed to evidence of “inventiveness, insight, balance, depth, and impact.”

The first one, in 2004, went to Adam Minter, a Shanghai-based freelance journalist who had produced a groundbreaking series on the Chinese recycling industry for Scrap magazine. It was a series, focusing on China’s rapidly expanding, but then little-understood role as a repository for the world’s refuse, and especially hard-to-process computer parts. Since then, winners have been recognized for work on legal affairs (John Gibeaut, ABA Journal); swimming-pool drownings (Shabnam Mogharabi, Aquatics International); Harvard missteps in a Russian initiative (David McClintick, Institutional Investor); and fuel choices by trucking companies (David Cullen, FleetOwner.)

What all six writers have in common — besides the handsome crystal trophies on their mantles — is that their stories won over a prestigious pair of jurors, who spent weeks analyzing the best journalism among national gold-award winners in the year’s Azbee competition. This years jurors — long-time journalists and educators George Gendron and Lou Ureneck — have been involved with Stephen Barr Award judging since the beginning.

Gendron, perhaps best known for his two decades as editor-in-chief of Inc. magazine, now is director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Clark University in Massachusetts — a program he founded. Years ago, Gendron also created the Inc. 500, the annual listing of America’s fastest-growing private companies.

Ureneck, now the director of Boston University’s journalism program, formerly was deputy managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and before that the editor and vice president of Maine’s Portland Press Herald. He has been editor-in-residence at Harvard’s Neiman Foundation, where he pursued a comparative study of the methods of historians and the practices of journalists. He is also a frequent commentator on national media issues.

In past years, Gendron and Ureneck have been joined by Walter V. Robinson, a veteran Boston Globe reporter and editor who now holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Boston’s Northeastern University. As assistant managing editor for investigations, Robinson headed the paper’s Spotlight Team, whose projects included the Pulitzer Prize-winning disclosures of sexual abuse of parishioners by Catholic priests, and a Church cover-up of the situation.

Since helping to found the Stephen Barr Award — endowed by Stephen’s parents not long after his death from cancer at age 43 — I have been honored to coordinate the judging process, and to work with these busy journalists as they give their time to ASBPE matters. Their dedication to candor, to six years of “getting it right,” no matter how long it took, has been truly impressive.

But my favorite job related to the Stephen Barr Award is sneaking behind the backs of the unsuspecting winners, and maneuvering with associates and relatives to make sure that recipients will be in the audience, to get the surprise of their lives. So far, four of the our six winners have been in attendance — to be blindsided from the lectern at the Azbee Awards of Excellence banquet. This year, Frank Lessiter’s son Michael managed to persuade his dad to make the trip, knowing that his father was about to receive the honor of a lifetime.

Six impressive Stephen Barr Award winners. Six extraordinary projects. And six triumphs for ASBPE. George Gendron, Lou Ureneck, and Walter V. Robinson: our membership salutes you.

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