The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch took top honors for investigative reporting at 2023 First Amendment Awards. 

Oklahoma Watch reporter Jennifer Palmer and Frontier reporters Clifton Adcock and Reese Gorman won first place for their joint reporting on misspent federal relief money intended to help students during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The Frontier’s joint investigation with Oklahoma Watch found that with few guardrails, some families used Oklahoma’s share of federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds to buy Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces and outdoor grills. 

“This project is a testament to the impact that collaboration can have in the news industry,” the judges said. “The stories had clear results, and the reporting makes me wonder what kind of waste and negligence would go unchecked without the hard work of investigative reporters.”

Frontier Managing Editor Brianna Bailey, Steve Lackmeyer of The Oklahoman and Nathan Poppe of Curbside Chronicle also were awarded second place for business news for their joint reporting on Oklahoma City’s affordable housing shortage. 

“A thorough job of capturing a story happening right now in countless cities throughout the country,” the judges said. “Through the use of public records, historical data, and personal memories gathered from shoe-leather reporting, the trio assembled a poignant essay that exposes the hardships too many in more affluent communities might not otherwise know about – and gave them a reason to care that it is. The story also seamlessly demonstrates how collaboration can work in these days when, due to shrinking resources, such efforts are going to become more common. 

The Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsors the annual First Amendment Awards, which recognizes print and broadcast journalism in Oklahoma and Texas.