Reporter Jessica Glenza and Co-Managing Editor Tom Cleary of the Register Citizen win the March DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media. Their coverage of rape charges against two Torrington High School football players, and subsequent bullying of the 13-year-old girls named in the case, drew national attention.
Connecticut Editor Matt DeRienzo explained the story in his nomination:
On the heels of the infamous Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, Jessica Glenza investigated rape charges against two Torrington High School football players. Co-Managing Editor Tom Cleary scoured high school student social media accounts and found that the two 13-year-old girls who were the victims in the case had been systematically bullied by classmates who were defending the alleged rapists. The girls were called “whore” and “snitch” in tweets and blamed for “ruining the lives” of the players.
Jessica’s first-day story touched off a national firestorm because: 1) the story uncovered that the high school’s football coach had allowed one of the accused rapists to play all season and be named MVP even though he was facing previous felony assault and robbery charges; 2) the story quoted the athletic director and superintendent of schools minimizing the situation and saying that there was not a behavior issue on the team despite a pattern of crimes and a hazing incident; 3) the newspaper published the bullying tweets without protecting the identities of the students who were calling the victims “whore” and other names, forcing the community to own up to the knowledge that a cross-section of kids, male and female, athletes, honor roll students, etc., were engaging in the bullying and victim blaming.
Jessica followed up with a shoe-leather audit of each Torrington public school’s compliance with the state’s bullying law, which uncovered widespread inconsistency and that the high school was not properly logging bullying complaints.
And wrote about more bullying tweets, victim blaming and minimization of the crime (one student compared statutory rape to jaywalking) even after the story made national news and sparked outrage.
The newspaper also published a continuously updated FAQ on the details of the case because of its complexity and the national attention it was receiving.
In the aftermath of The Register Citizen’s reporting on this issue, four additional Torrington High School students, for a total of six, including at least four football players, have been charged with rape. And the case has helped spark a national conversation about victim blaming and “rape culture.”
Most of the national news outlets who reported on the case, including, Columbia Journalism Review, The Atlantic, NPR, the New York Times and CNN, mentioned The Register Citizen’s role in the story.
Judges praised the Register Citizen’s work:
As social media continues to rapidly evolve today’s digital world, I applaud The Register Citizen’s audacity in leveraging this medium to serve an important journalistic purpose that exposed the realism of cyber-bulling. The paper’s decision to move forward with publishing tweets from minors forced a much-needed discussion about this overlooked issue and propelled it into the national spotlight. Furthermore, this is today’s journalism at its best. As newsrooms across the country continue to grapple with media ethics when dealing with social media, The Register Citizen has established itself as an innovative leader in digital journalism.
Personnel matter. Open investigation. “We just have to report it by month.”
The number of excuses public officials gave for not talking or not handing over information about bullying almost equaled the number of sickening tweets aimed at a 13-year-old girl these stories uncovered.
The journalists at the Register Citizen did what great journalists do. They asked questions, and when the answers were disturbing — or when the answers were not forthcoming — they kept asking questions.
That can be all the harder to do in a small community, where the pressure to stop asking uncomfortable questions can be more intense because everyone knows everyone.
But because Jessica Glenza didn’t stop at the first couple of stories, which reported on the criminal charges and the abusive tweets, she found another story.
While national reporters were likely following the stories she’d already done, she dug deeper and found that schools weren’t following their own policies and/or the law.
Because they weren’t adequately tracking bullying, if they tracked it at all, they really had no idea how big the problem was. And in the long run, that’s an even bigger scandal than the football players and the disgraceful tweets.
This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media.