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Lunch. Free lunch. It’s hard to turn down a free lunch, especially when you know the food will at least be decent. It is even harder to turn down free lunch when it comes with an opportunity to listen to people who have a lot of good wisdom and experience.

Today, the University of Oregon celebrates the Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism. The awards are given to honor journalists of integrity, good character and a good sense of ethical journalism.

As the Dean of the School of Journalism and Communications, Professor Tim Gleason, said in a panel after the awards were awarded, the awards are given for the “context in which the [journalistic] work is done” and for “the decision making process” that the journalist and/or team goes through.

The ceremony went well: short and to the point. It didn’t drag on like many of them do; and as stated earlier, free lunch never hurts. The food, catered by the University of Oregon, was good, although their bread was a little heavy. (A little less kneading guys, it keeps the bread lighter.)

The lunch started a little after 12 p.m. We had about an hour to relax, eat and talk with those around us. It’s always interesting to meet the people who go to the lectures. Many of them are students who go for extra credit for class, or for a project they’re working on. The other set of people are generally professional journalists, professors, the award winners and family members.

After a time getting to know our table-mates, the ceremony started. It started out with the usual short introduction speech made by the Dean, then the presentation of the awards to the winners. To conclude the ceremony and luncheon, a panel of a couple of the award winners talked about their experiences.

The awards themselves are not your typical framed congratulatory paper (although they did give a couple of those out for the Payne Special Criteria awards). No, these awards contain two frames and are opened like an open book you’re trying to stand on the table—it creates a 90-degree angle. One of the panels on the inside is a mirror, while the other has a statement written about what it is to be an ethical journalist, only it’s written backwards. You have to look into the mirror to read what it says.

That way “when you get up in the morning and look in the mirror” you see an ethical journalist, said Dean Gleason to the room as he introduced the award.

The award winners for 2011 are:

  • The New York Times for their ethical work with the WikiLeaks case. Bob Keller, executive editor for the New York Times, accepted the award.
  • Stanley Nelson, editor for the Concordia Sentinel, for his work on solving a 46-year-old murder case of Frank Morris.
  • The New York Times photographer, Damon Winter, for his work during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
  • Yale Daily News for their work following the tragic suicide of a Yale student in New York City. Paul Needlham, editor of the Yale Daily News, accepted the award.