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Publisher of biweekly newspaper receives award for journalistic courage

By Maya Dollarhide
Special to The Freedom Forum Online

04.27.2000
No alternate text.Tim Crews...
Sacramento Valley Mirror Publisher Tim Crews holds copy of his newspaper outside Tehama County Jail in California after his release March 1. Crews spent five days in jail on contempt of court charges for refusing to reveal source of story he wrote about a former California Highway Patrol officer accused of stealing a handgun.
No alternate text.

NEW YORK — Tim Crews, the editor and publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, was not dreaming of glory and awards while he was serving time in a Tehama County, Calif., jail cell.

He was thinking about his paper and the possibility of losing it.

"I had more of a fear of the unknown. I was much more worried for my staff and the paper," Crews said yesterday as he received the Francis Frost Wood Award for Courage in Journalism in a program at Newseum/NY. The award is given annually to a journalist who best exemplifies physical or moral courage in the practice of his or her craft. Francis Frost Wood was a former Newsday ombudsman.

Crews' paper, a local and independent biweekly in Northern California that he started in 1991, may be small, but it addresses serious issues.

"What we do very simply is try to hold up a mirror and show people what their county looks like," Crews said. And last year the county looked corrupt.

Crews was jailed for refusing to reveal his confidential sources for a story he wrote in June 1999 about a case involving a former drug-enforcement agent.

"This all started with a puff piece that I did about Dewey Anderson, the undersheriff of Tehama and Glenn counties," Crews said. "Then I had two sources who called and told me that the guy was a crook." He investigated what his sources had told him, and the result was the article accusing Anderson, a former drug enforcement agent, of illegally taking a .380 semiautomatic gun that had been seized in a drug bust in 1994. The gun's serial numbers were filed off, and it made its way into the hands of a high school boy, Anderson's daughter's boyfriend. (Earlier in the day the Tehama County courts dismissed a criminal charge against Anderson, but he will still face charges of receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm with the identification numbers removed.)

After Crews refused to give up his confidential sources during Anderson's first trial, he was called "obstinate and wrong-headed" by a Tehama county judge, who sentenced him to jail for contempt.

But the Francis Frost Wood judges called him "courageous."

Thus, he was honored by Hofstra University, the Wood family and a distinguished awards committee that consists of six Pulitzer Prize and 12 Emmy winners. Crews now is part of a group of recipients that includes Chris Hedges from the New York Times, who covered the war in Kosovo, and Veronica Guerin, the Irish newspaper reporter who was gunned down after reporting on Dublin drug lords.

"This event is overwhelming," Crews said. "I couldn't believe it when Bob Greene called me. I thought why is Bob Greene calling me?!"

Hofstra's acting journalism chairman, Robert W. Greene, a Pulitzer winner and former Newsday editor, presented Crews the award for moral and physical courage.

"Courage that is not passing, but standing with the bull's horns at your belly," Greene said. "People like Crews are the most courageous, and they have the most to lose. If he'd gone back to jail, his paper would have folded."

In addition to receiving the Wood award and a $2,000 honorarium, Crews received the good news that he would not be going back to jail. Everyone at the event was visibly relieved. "My attorney believes this award is why they've withdrawn the second subpoena," Crews said.

Bob Giles, senior vice president of The Freedom Forum, began the program by saying the award was given in the spirit of idealism and for the pursuit of integrity.

"Journalists are at risk every day," Giles said. "Tim Crews demonstrates that there are dangers for journalists in the United States, as well as in the Balkans or South America."

Crews said he would continue to tell the public in the tiny county of 27,000 people what is going on, no matter what the risk to himself.

"They thought the story of the guns would go away if I was in jail," Crews said. "But it didn't." He looked out into the audience and smiled. "It's because of you guys that I'm going back."

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