MLK50: Justice through Journalism is the winner of a Breaking Barriers Award from the Institute for Nonprofit News for reporter Carrington J. Tatum’s stories about Southwest Memphis residents’ fight against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline.
The national award “honors reporting that brought new understanding to an issue or topic affecting people or communities that are historically underrepresented, disadvantaged or marginalized, resulting in impactful change,” according to the INN announcement. The award is one of 24 presented across nine categories; MLK50 won in the medium-size newsroom category.
Byhalia Connection Pipeline
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“I’m honored to have contributed toward such a high accolade for MLK50 at such an early time in my career,” said Tatum, 23. “However, to me, this award is a bigger recognition of a new era of journalism that puts marginalized people and communities before anything else.
“For so long, our media has allowed poor, Black communities to go unseen and unheard amid injustice. But now, I think there’s a new standard and expectation for what good journalism is and what it could be.”
The 2020 graduate of Texas State University joined MLK50 last fall as a Report for America corps member. He quickly carved out an environmental justice beat. He focused on Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation’s plans to build the Byhalia Connection Pipeline through majority Black Southwest Memphis against the wishes of residents.
The residents and their supporters saw the project as environmental racism and a threat to the city’s water supply.
Tatum wrote just shy of 40 stories (read them here) that followed the community’s efforts to fight the project — from protests in the streets, to city and county boards, to state and federal authorities and to the courts. He was the first to report on Plains’ use of eminent domain in Memphis to force access to land that owners wouldn’t sell to them.
Tatum’s stories helped draw national attention to the cause; former vice president Al Gore gave Tatum an exclusive interview after speaking at an anti-pipeline rally. Plains announced in July that it would no longer pursue the pipeline project.
MLK50 editor and publisher Wendi C. Thomas described Tatum’s work as a “poignant example of the truth uttered by one of the country’s first investigative journalists, Ida B. Wells. ‘The people must know the truth before they can act, and there is no educator to compare to the press.’”
INN, of which MLK50 is a member, supports more than 350 independent news organizations that are dedicated to public service. There were 415 entries for the awards this year, which were judged by a panel that included journalists from member newsrooms.
“At its best, nonprofit news advocates for its community, fighting abuses of power,” the judges said in summarizing MLK50’s winning entry. “MLK50 delivered on that highest calling in a big way — and has the impact to show for it.”
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.