Leader series on SIST wins first place in national contest

Shawano Leader/January 9, 2006

A series of stories written by Tim Ryan of the Shawano Leader received a first place award from the Suburban Newspapers of America.

Ryan’s series – "Sorting Fact, Fiction & Faith: An in-depth look at Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy," received the top honor among all daily newspapers entering the "Best In-depth Reporting" category in the annual competition. Entries for newspapers under 25,000 and over 25,000 circulation were judged together in this category.

The seven-day series, totaling 20 stories and more than 20,000 words, was published in October 2004. Ryan had spent much of the previous several months gathering and reviewing records, conducting interviews and piecing together other details and information about Samanta Roy and the not-for-profit organization he heads, SIST.

"These series of stories helped address the concerns and questions of many area residents about Samanta Roy and the growing number of property purchases and businesses SIST and its subsidiaries operate in Shawano," said Leader editor Kent Tempus. "This award is an acknowledgment by journalism professionals of the outstanding effort by Tim to fully explain Samanta Roy’s and SIST’s background, as well as their relationship to the community and local government agencies."

At the time the series was published, SIST had purchased more than $8 million of businesses and property in and around Shawano (now more than $12 million). Representatives of SIST have said that their intent was to establish an international boarding school in Shawano.

SIST sued the Leader and Ryan about six months after publication of the series. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Green Bay, claimed that the Leader since March 2000 had "intentionally targeted" SIST by publishing "false, defamatory and discriminatory statements and news articles…with malicious intent or reckless disregard, and with the intended purpose of destroying" SIST and the businesses it owns. The suit also alleged that the newspaper’s actions were racially motivated because Samanta Roy is of East Indian descent.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in October. Judge William Griesbach said in his dismissal order that SIST could not show any facts showing the Leader or Ryan acted with racial animus. "…allowing the plaintiff to proceed under such a theory would have significant implications for the constitutionally protected right to a free press." Griesbach wrote that under the plaintiff’s theory, "even truthful reporting would be actionable if it could be shown that it might adversely affect a person’s business relations, simply by alleging racial animus on the part of the defendant."

Ryan joined the Leader staff in October 2002, although he contributed freelance stories to the Leader for a year before that. He also was a Leader reporter in 1995 and 1996.

"It’s always an honor to have your work recognized," he said. "It’s especially gratifying in light of some of the controversy that surrounded it to have it validated as a fair and honest piece of journalism, and I’m happy to be writing for a newspaper that had the courage to run it and stand behind it."

Leader publisher Rod Christensen said Ryan worked exceptionally hard to prepare a complete and thorough picture of SIST and Samanta Roy. Ryan, along with Leader editor Kent Tempus, also succeeded in providing an impartial and balanced series, Christensen noted – even though Samanta Roy and SIST officials did not respond to repeated requests for interviews and information.

"We are extremely proud of Tim and his work on this series, as well as his subsequent reporting on issues relating to SIST," Christensen said. "We are fortunate to have him on the staff, and our readers benefit from his expertise."

SNA, based in Traverse City, Mich., has more than 2,000 member newspapers across the country. SNA received more than 3,100 entries for the competition. Finishing second and third in the in-depth category were two much larger newspapers in New York, Saratoga Springs and Kingston. The competition was judged by representatives of the American Press Institute.

The Leader is the only daily newspaper in the state to receive an award from SNA this year. Three weekly papers in the greater Milwaukee area also received awards.

The award is the third from SNA for Ryan, who received second place awards for his weekly column in 2003 and 2004.

Ryan also won first place awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for enterprise/interpretive reporting in 1996 and investigative reporting in 1997, and first place awards for column writing in 2003 and 2004.

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