Former WSU student newspaper editor earns Polk Award for political writing two years out of school

Two years ago, Chance Swaim was fighting for the future of his student newspaper at Wichita State University. This week, he was honored for his fight against corruption as a journalist with the Wichita Eagle:

Three Wichita Eagle staff members won one of the nation’s top journalism awards for work that included investigations into how former Mayor Jeff Longwell steered a lucrative city contract to friends and supporters.

The George Polk Award for political reporting was shared by Chance Swaim, Jonathan Shorman and Dion Lefler of The Eagle and Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun, it was announced Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The reporters were cited “for turning journalistic intuition into deep dives into public records that revealed municipal misconduct,” according to a news release.

I remember interviewing Swaim after the student government at WSU slashed the paper’s budget, something he noted would lead to “an inelegant death for a 123-year-old student-run newspaper.” In talking with him and emailing with him, I never got the sense he was panicked. Instead, he seemed to have both a sense of the situation and a sense that his staff would somehow find a way to make this work.

At the core of the fight over The Sunflower’s funding was a fundamental failure of the student government to a) understand the importance of a good student newspaper and b) a failure to abide by open-meeting rules and legal procedures to conduct its business. Swaim and his staff consistently pushed on those issues throughout the battle against these cuts, making the case that it wasn’t all about his folks, but about the needs of the campus community.

The Sunflower eventually won, avoiding the funding cut that year and receiving full funding the next. Swaim graduated and took a job at the Eagle, where he continued his efforts to dig into things that mattered and feed his need to be nosy for his readers.

Congratulations to Swaim and his colleagues for this prestigious honor on an important story.

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