an achievement, an apology

I’m a national award-winning journalist, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.

I am honored, humbled and unsure how to announce that Grace Frye, Kathleen Creedon and I are national award-winning journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalists recognized our March 1, 2018 news story for the Trinitonian — “After months, an arrest and some answers in Mandadi case” — as the national winner of its 2018 Mark of Excellence award for Breaking News Reporting, Small School Division. Of all student newspapers at American colleges enrolling fewer than 10,000 students, our story stood out to the judges as the exemplar of breaking news journalism that year. It was first selected as the best in Oklahoma and Texas, then it was picked as the best of the best: the best in the nation.

I am overwhelmed by today’s news, which also generates deeply conflicted feelings in me, considering the circumstances. I am so proud of Grace and Kathleen, who carried the day — from the affidavit’s release until 8 a.m. the next morning, when we finished the story, set it on the page and sent the paper to print — and produced with me what I truly believe is an illuminating guide to a disorienting, horrifying sequence of events. I am indebted to my advisor, Katharine Martin, who patiently helped me navigate the most ethically fraught challenge I’ve ever encountered. I owe so much to my family and my friends, who helped me through unfamiliar and emotionally treacherous territory. I hope I can be for another what you all were to me.

That year, as editor-in-chief of the Trinitonian, I spent countless hours agonizing over how to respectfully do my duty to my community and to the historical record. I lost a close friend, others quit the paper, staffers expressed doubts, personal relationships were — maybe irrevocably — damaged. I spent many long hours with the bereaved and the outraged, listening to their grievances and refining my paper’s policies for writing about tragedies so deeply affecting at such a small school. I know this news may anger or sadden them.

I recognize those feelings in myself. I feel so strange, because this accomplishment is borne of a moral horror. The story is reactive in nature, predicated on a violence that never should have happened. I hate that. I hate that we had to do this, and I wish we didn’t have the chance to win this award. I don’t know how to feel, being told that we did an excellent job. It makes me feel exploitative, or parasitic on the pain of others. But I also know that if the campus’ paper of record weren’t doing the reporting, our campus’ story would be told only by outsiders. Who wants to be part of a community that doesn’t ask questions and seek answers when one of its own is killed? Why would anyone settle for a landscape of gossip, rumors and closely guarded narratives, when we could endeavor toward a common ground of publicly presented and verified facts?

Friends, strangers, teachers and staff would reassure me of the Trinitonian’s noble role and our good work. At the time I couldn’t help but disregard their words as mere niceties, polite but empty platitudes. They ring truer to me now than ever. I thank everyone who offered us kindness in a stressful time, and I apologize if I was ever too self-conscious to recognize your sincerity.

This is an extremely selfish post. The difficulty I bore is of such a different kind, of such a different tenor and intensity, than the grief and suffering my neighbors and loved ones faced last year and continue to face, as we prepare to watch the accused stand trial. Every pang of pride is accompanied by one, just as strong, of guilt and ambivalence. All I can do is hope my future work on this developing story rises to the standard set by Grace’s diligent reporting, Kathleen’s keen editing and my own contributions, sparing and supervisory though they were.

There is a court date set for the charges against Mark Howerton. On Friday, May 3, at 9 a.m., in the 144th Judicial District Court of Bexar County, proceedings on the state’s charges — of aggravated sexual assault, murder, kidnapping and criminal mischief — are meant to begin. The last four times a court date was set, there was only a short bench conference, as attorneys conferred with the judge to explain that the trial wasn’t ready to begin due to discovery issues; the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime labs are severely backlogged. But witnesses have been subpoenaed, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Thanks for listening. You can read the full list of Mark of Excellence winners and runners-up here.

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Daniel Conrad

Daniel Conrad

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Legal affairs reporter in San Antonio for CourthouseNews.com and copy editor for the San Antonio Current. I’m told I have a “print personality.”