Brian PJ Cronin of The Highlands Current has been named the recipient of the 2021 Rollin M. “Pete” McCommons Award for Distinguished Community Journalism. The award, which was presented during the Grady Salutes gala on Friday, April 28, 2023, recognizes Cronin for his multi-part series on food insecurity, titled “Hunger in the Highlands.”
“The selection committee outdid themselves this year by choosing Brian PJ Cronin,” said Pete McCommons, whom the award is named after. “Mr. Cronin not only took a deep dive into the reasons for hunger amid plenty, but he also plunged into the world of those attempting to combat hunger and tells us through their words what is working and what needs to be done to make it work better.”
The McCommons Award, established by Grady Thrasher and Kathy Prescott to honor Pete McCommons, publisher and editor of Flagpole Magazine in Athens, annually recognizes impactful coverage on issues that affect a community. Nominations are now open for the 2022 award, and can be submitted on the McCommons Award for Distinguished Community Journalism webpage.
Although The Highlands Current’s coverage area, which includes Cold Spring, Beacon and Philipstown, New York, is generally affluent, Cronin saw that there was an overwhelming need for food assistance. He then mapped this out in his reporting.
“It’s gratifying to bestow the McCommons award on a journalist who reported on a subject that I know Pete cares deeply about,” Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College, said. “This work highlights hunger, an issue that we can and must solve together as a society, and does its best work by identifying a problem but also identifying potential solutions.”
In his reporting, Cronin took an in-depth look at numerous aspects of food insecurity, including housing, transportation, agriculture, inequality, education and more. His series ended with a resource guide for residents.
“We were impressed by the depth and richness of this reporting, and especially the time and resources he was given to carry out this project,” explained Kyser Lough, the chair of the McCommons Award Committee and an assistant professor in Grady’s Department of Journalism.
“He used well-rounded sourcing to find the relevant data and people necessary to build a deeper narrative,” Lough added, “which allowed him to thoroughly present the topic and then start exploring what people were doing about it. His work highlights the need for in-depth coverage like this that can fully explore the nuance and context of a community topic, and the importance of community news outlets.”
In his acceptance speech, Cronin emphasized the importance of local, independent journalism, reinforcing its pivotal role in communities.
“It’s up to small, local, independent news organizations with boots on the ground and knowledge of their communities to keep their communities from crumbling,” said Cronin. “It’s up to us, because no one else is going to do it for us.”
Jon Peters, the head of the Department of Journalism, shares this sentiment.
“Community journalism is as important as ever, and Brian’s work is a powerful reminder of it — and an exemplar of telling stories that matter to your town and neighborhood,” said Peters. “He learned of a major problem, he thoroughly investigated and reported it, and he shared a variety of public resources and possible solutions. That’s exceptionally valuable and a credit to Brian’s vision as a reporter. I’m thrilled we’re honoring him.”
The Rollin M. “Pete” McCommons Award for Distinguished Community Journalism, sponsored by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, goes to small- or niche-market media outlets that have produced single or packaged stories on issues affecting their community and can offer how these stories may have impacted their community. These media outlets can create bonds with its citizens, increase diversity, offer greater depth and context, and find ways to capture local priorities, concerns and perspectives.