Photo by Kellen Hazelip, Ball State University

Kaitlin Lange
Ball State University

The Times of Northwest Indiana was named the 2016 APME Innovator of the Year, pulling ahead of two Pulitzer Prize winning newspapers, which were finalists for the honor. Editors attending the conference decided among the three finalists and civility won out.

The Times worked over the last year to bring a civil tongue to its community, leading the way by refusing to publish vitriolic speech.

“This is something any of you can do in your communities,” Editor Bob Heisse told news leaders upon accepting the award. “It’s a concept that our community has embraced.”

The Times originally partnered with the Gary Chamber of Commerce, but added community partners like local school corporations, churches and other media organizations.

Community Civility Counts is now much bigger than Gary, Indiana, where it started.

On the newspaper side of the movement, the editors refuse to publish any stories or letters to the editor with “name-calling” in it. The editors send back letters that have negative language and don’t have an online comments section on the website.

Originally, people were angry and felt their freedom of speech was being taken away, said Deputy Editor Summer Moore. Not so anymore.

“Eighteen months in, the feedback has completely changed,” said Moore said. “Now all we’re getting from the community is they’re so exited and so happy that we’re not putting that stuff in our paper anymore.”

They vet stories about politics that they get from the Associated Press as well to make sure it follows the same no name-calling guidelines. They also write stories spotlighting civility and co-host events to increase visibility about the topic. The movement is much bigger than the newspaper. Even government bodies have passed resolutions promising to eliminate negative language.

The initiative could still get bigger. After the presentation, Moore passed out flyers prompting other media organizations to get involved in making the world a more civil place.

Other finalists for the Innovation Award were the Milwaukee Journal Gazette and the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, which won a Pulitzer this year for a year-long collaborative project the Tampa Bay Times detailing horrific conditions in Florida’s mental health hospitals.

“The voters got it right,” said APME President Bill Church, whose paper, The Herald-Tribune, was a finalist for the award. “Civility Counts is a magnificent engagement effort that meets the definition of innovation. It is a creative solution that changes the environment.”