Never in my almost-39 years of journalism would it have dawned on me that PGN, the little LGBT newspaper that just wouldn’t quit, would be honored with the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting.
The prestigious award was given to our longtime reporter Tim Cwiek at a Washington, D.C., ceremony last weekend for his coverage of the almost-12-year odyssey of twists and turns attempting to understand why an African-American transwoman offered a courtesy ride home by police wound up dead on a Philadelphia street from blunt-force trauma to the head. After finding doors slammed by police officials and district attorneys, Tim demanded hearings and traveled off to numerous courts to demand official documents under the Right-to-Know Law … and somehow that won Tim and PGN a trip to the National Press Club and its sold-out black-tie-optional banquet.
As we arrive, Tim, our editor Jen Colletta and myself are escorted to our table. We are sitting with the Wall Street Journal staff, who are accepting an award for investigative journalism as well. The only other person at our table is a reporter from the Miami New Times, Mike Miller.
We all sit down and begin to mingle, with Jen and me talking with the staff from the Journal and Tim with Mike, chatting away like old buddies. There’s a lull at the table with only Tim and Mike talking and then Tim says to all of us: “He covered a murder also and his was a porn star.” Now everyone at the table was glued to Mike and Tim. When the silence was at a cutting edge, someone from the Journal looks at Tim and asks, “What was yours about?” Tim starts to tell the story of Nizah Morris, and Mike chimes in about the possible gay angle of his story, since the straight male porn star had murdered a closeted gay man, and — how should I put this? — the people from the Wall Street Journal must have thought they had stepped into an alternate universe.
Mike’s award-winning article was titled “Champ” and explores the world of a male porn star who has done gay porn for pay. I chime in to the Journal staff and ask, “Gay for pay, a good financial story, something the Journal can wrap its hands around?” And then I realized what I said … Unfazed, Mike and Tim continue to compare their stories and investigations.
In between, I did learn from the award-winning Wall Street Journal that when someone who works at a company gives you information and suggests you buy that company’s stock, that’s inside trading and illegal. But, when a member of Congress or their staff knows of legislation that is going to be passed that can affect a company’s stock and goes out and buys it, that is not illegal. The Wall Street Journal won an award this year for that story.
Then it is Tim’s time to accept his award. The announcers have as a backdrop the full front page of PGN and on the side in bold letters winner for “Coverage of Nizah Morris Case.” This brings about a rumble of mixed emotions in me. First, seeing PGN honored along with The Washington Post, Boston Globe, NPR, CNN and Wall Street Journal is a new pinnacle for LGBT media. Then, there’s seeing Nizah’s name in lights, and the thought that she’d like that.
So, I guess you can say we talked sex, politics and money at our table, with a little journalism on the side. And you can bet that the Nizah Morris story is still not over, until there are answers. That is called social justice for all.