Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 8 a.m.
Two years ago this week, a bludgeoned Arturo Martinez-Sanchez regained consciousness enough in his living room to discover his wife and daughter dead in their bedrooms, victims of a hammer-wielding assailant who had snuck into their home. The couple’s two young sons escaped injury, asleep in their own bedroom.
Sun reporter Jackie Valley and photographer/videographer Leila Navidi would, with the family’s cooperation, spend much of the next year with the father and his boys — at their home; with the boys as they returned to school; with the father in physical therapy, counseling and at his boxing gym. They would accompany the three at family holiday meals and be with them when they went to the cemetery to visit the gravesite shared by Yadira, who was 38, and 10-year-old Karla.
From the journalists’ reporting grew a seven-part, 15,000-word series that gave witness to how Arturo and his sons Cristopher, 9, and Alejandro, 4, could somehow move forward with their lives.
For that series, “Grace Through Grief: A Shattered Family Recovers,” the Sun today was awarded the distinguished 2014 Dart Award, presented by Columbia University for excellence in coverage of trauma.
The Dart Award, given annually since 1994, honors exemplary journalism about the effects of violence, crime, disaster and other traumatic events on individuals, families or communities. The award comes with a $5,000 cash prize. By tradition, the Dart Award is a team prize, recognizing that in-depth coverage of trauma requires an exceptional commitment by the entire news organization.
The judging panel described "Grace Through Grief" as an “extraordinarily intimate, deeply reported and inspiring portrayal of a family in the aftermath of horror.”
The series launched with scenes from the day before the April 15, 2012, attacks, recalling the last hours of the intact family as it tended to errands and enjoyed an evening of fun with friends before going home to sleep. The violence that would visit the family overnight would traumatize even the most veteran first-responders.
Framed by that nightmare, Valley and Navidi told of the father and sons’ resilience, courage and grace in offering forgiveness and moving forward. The story was told “with dignity, insight and compassion,” the judges said.
Judges called the prose “exceptional” and the photographs “powerful” and “intimate without being disruptive.” They praised the series’ “creative subversiveness,” going far beyond conventional crime reporting in "bringing the reader on a journey of faith, fatherhood, recovery and resilience.” Judges also recognized the “careful restraint” in dealing with the children, including not asking them to recount their memories of the crime.
Judges also awarded a Dart Award to This American Life for its two-part radio series that followed students, school staff and families as they confront and cope with the deeply disruptive impact of gun violence. The series, “Harper High School,” offered insight into gang geography, youth culture, the corrosive impacts of trauma and the overwhelming limitations of stemming the tide of violence. Judges called it “profoundly moving” and “extraordinarily comprehensive and compassionate” in its complexity,” including showing “a wide range of responses to living in an environment of chronic violence.”
Dart Award judges gave honorary mentions to the New York Times Magazine for its stories of victims of child pornography, and to More Magazine for exploring the connection between domestic violence and chronic illness.
Other finalists for the Dart Award were The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Texas Tribune and Colorado Springs Gazette.
Sun Publisher and Editor Brian Greenspun said he was humbled by the award and proud of the newsroom staff members who produced it, from Valley and Navidi and project editor Tom Gorman to the editors, designers and digital programmers who packaged the series for print and online readers.
“Writing about the traumas that tear at the stability and goodness of our communities is one of journalism’s important roles and great challenges,” Greenspun said. “‘Grace Through Grief’ was a vital story to tell because it ultimately spoke of the emotional strength of Arturo and his two boys to recover from an unspeakable crime and move forward. Like all Las Vegans, we grieved along with them, and we were graced by their story of recovery.”
The Dart Awards will be presented as part of a 20th anniversary Dart Awards symposium at the Columbia School of Journalism on May 8 in New York City. Columbia University also is the sponsor of the annual Pulitzer Prizes.