Michael Hewlett

Assembly NC Reporter Michael Hewlett Wins Sunshine Award for Journalism

The North Carolina Open Government Coalition presented the Sunshine Award for Journalism to Michael Hewlett, a reporter for the Assembly NC, for his investigation into the prosecution of Charles McNeair and his quest for clemency.

Hewlett’s reporting of the McNeair case captures in devastating detail the stakes of the criminal justice system and the importance of transparency in criminal cases. Hewlett sought information from law enforcement, the North Carolina Innocence Commission and local authorities to demonstrate how McNeair’s case was mishandled. He pored over case files to show that authorities had failed to properly transfer his criminal file to the Innocence Commission for review. He set the events in historical, social and cultural context using public information and dogged reporting.

The reporting led the City of Lexington to pass a resolution asking Governor Roy Cooper to grant McNeair clemency after spending more than 44 years in jail.

“Michael’s reporting is the exemplar of watchdog criminal justice reporting,” said Brooks Fuller, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. “After our awards committee decided that Michael would receive the award, I read and re-read his work and I was absolutely floored every time. This is the essence of our Sunshine Awards for journalism.”

The Sunshine Award for Journalism is presented to a journalist or newsroom who uses state access laws to obtain information and hold government actors accountable. The recipients’ work exemplifies the spirit of watchdog journalism and gives meaning and purpose North Carolina’s public records and open meetings laws. The award was presented at the annual N.C. News and Information Summit held at North Carolina Central University on Sunshine Day.

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