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The Marshall Project Wins 2021 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism

The award recognizes “The Language Project,” a series of essays, interviews and a style guidance that tackled the thorny issue of the words we do — and don’t use — when reporting on incarceration.

The Marshall Project has been honored with the 2021 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism, in recognition of The Language Project, a collection of essays by and about people with personal experiences of incarceration, and a style guidance, “What Words We Use — and Avoid — When Covering People and Incarceration.”

The Language Project embraces language that is clear, effective and free of euphemism, providing alternatives to harmful labels using the logic of “people first” language. The project was led by senior editor Akiba Solomon and features contributions by a range of writers and reporters, including News Inside director Lawrence Bartley and contributing writer Rahsaan Thomas. Bo-Won Keum designed the package, and Katie Park created interactive elements to give the words a dynamic effect.

“We are honored by the recognition of this groundbreaking project, and so many people contributed to its success,” said Akiba Solomon, senior editor at The Marshall Project. “This was truly a group effort, and I’m thrilled to see it honored in this way.”

The Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism recognizes constructively critical articles, books, and electronic and online media reports; academic and other research; and reports by media ombudsmen and journalism watchdog groups.

Judges for the Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism were unanimous in their selection of The Language Project.

“We had endless discussions in newsrooms about accuracy and words during my career, and this project feels like another step in the direction for improved accuracy. It marks a change for some journalists,” said Andrew Alexander, one of the Bart Richards Awards panel judges who served as Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers for 32 years.

“We are excited The Language Project has received the 2021 Bart Richards Award, and thrilled to know that our work is giving journalists the incentive and tools to think more critically about the language used to describe incarcerated people in reporting,” said Susan Chira, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project. “Ultimately, The Language Project recognizes an incontrovertible fact — that people in prison or jail are people. Journalism is a discipline of clarity. If we fall back on labels, we are not doing our best work.”

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