Flor-Ala wins award for investigative reporting

On July 31, The Flor-Ala staff was nominated for the University of Georgia’s 2019 Betty Gage Holland Award and won for its Freedom of Information (FOI) access and reporting.

The Betty Gage Holland Award recognizes journalists and their publications for “distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses.” 

Former Flor-Ala Editor-in-Chief Harley Duncan attended the ceremony held in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia in honor of the whole staff.

The paper was presented with an award of $1,000 as well as Duncan being awarded with $1,000 for his investigative reporting on the university’s vice president of student affairs resignation.

“A team effort was needed to win this award, and that is what last year’s staff accomplished,” Duncan said. “I believe this award puts a stamp on the work I did as well. A lot of people at the university discredited the reporting I did and the articles we published, but this kind of recognition shows that we were doing our jobs well.”

Duncan said his experiences at UNA taught him about his leadership abilities, provided an abundance of knowledge about being a journalist and allowed him to make a lot of great friends as EIC.

Duncan expresses a sense of gratitude towards former adviser Scott Morris.

“Some of the most distinguishable obstacles I encountered while covering stories that involved public records were the UNA administration and poorly written state laws,” Duncan said. “It’s difficult, expensive or both to obtain public records in the state of Alabama because the laws written about them give more power to public institutions than the general public.”

Even with these obstacles, The Flor-Ala and Duncan’s reporting brought a lot of justice.

“It brought a lot of justice to several women who were sexually harassed by a professor, it brought about the university’s need to hire a full-time Title IX coordinator, it set a precedent of accountability, and it revealed the UNA administrators’ main priorities,” said Duncan.

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, said this is what journalists do, they obtain and expose information.

“The Flor-Ala has spoken truth to power,” Hiestand said. “And that is their legacy.”

Duncan hopes the Betty Gage Holland Award earns The Flor-Ala more respect and can spark a larger conversation at The University of North Alabama on the topic of public records and institutional transparency.