Darien Times’ assistant editor DesRoches named ‘Reporter of the Year’

Darien Times’ assistant editor David DesRoches was named the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s journalist of the year Saturday night at the organization’s annual convention and awards banquet.

This is the first time that a reporter for Hersam Acorn Newspapers has received this prestigious award.

“The variety of categories that David was nominated for shows his versatility and talent,” said Thomas Nash, Hersam Acorn Newspapers’ group publisher. “He has worked long and hard over the past year and we’re proud of his efforts — efforts that have truly made a difference.”

Martin Hersam, the company’s chief operating officer, agreed.

“We are extremely proud of David, Susan and the entire staff at The Darien Times,” Hersam said. “These awards are a result of hard work and a focus on upholding the highest standards of community journalism.”

The New England Newspaper and Press Association includes media from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Darien Times is in weekly class 2, which is for weekly papers with more than 6,000 in circulation.

DesRoches earned six reporting awards in various categories, five individually and one with editor Susan Shultz, that resulted in his being named journalist of the year.

He earned first place in education reporting and in right-to-know reporting — both tied to his coverage of Darien’s special education controversy. DesRoches has been at the forefront of the intense coverage of the complicated challenges facing Darien’s special education program, which culminated in three investigations that confirmed Darien’s policies had broken laws and violated IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

• Top 10 of 2013: No. 1 — Special education

• Freedom of Information stories

DesRoches earned second place in investigative reporting and third place in crimes and courts reporting for his coverage of the controversy over the Wall Street banker accused of stiffing and stabbing a Queens cab driver, after getting a ride from Manhattan to Darien.

After a dispute over cab fare resulted in a violent incident, all charges were dropped against Darienite William Bryan Jennings in October because New York cab driver Mohamed Ammar had kept the knife used in the scuffle for four months. His lawyer, Hassan Ahmad, claimed Ammar kept it because he was unaware of judicial procedure. DesRoches then reported possible malfeasance on behalf of the prosecuting attorney, Steven Weiss, who appeared to withhold evidence from Jennings’ counsel while trying to make a plea deal.

• Bigotry, assault charges dropped against Jennings

• Evidence withheld in Jennings’ Stamford trial

• Conflict of interest? Darien hate crime left in hands of civil court

He earned third place in the local personality profile for his profile of Darienite Gene Coyle, a Marine, for the Darien Times’ Memorial Day special section. The contest judges wrote that this piece “works because of the details.”

“[L]ike how Coyle, a justice of the peace, performs marriages for no charge,” the judges wrote. “Instead he asks couples to make a donation to help wounded marines.”

Together with Shultz, he earned second place in general news reporting for the coverage of the death of Darienite Kevin Murphy last March after the father of five was hit by a early morning Metro-North train at the Noroton Heights train station.

There were no witnesses to the early morning incident and the case will likely remain unsolved. The judges wrote that Shultz and DesRoches delivered “gripping, yet sensitive coverage about this mysterious death of a well-known and beloved community member.”

• Town remembers Kevin Murphy

• Reporter’s notebook: I’m his daughter

“David more than deserves the honor of journalist of the year,” Shultz said. “His work this year has been complicated and consuming, and whether he is doing the first or 50th story on an issue, he devotes the same amount of his effort — all of it. I am extremely proud of this honor and to be his editor.”

DesRoches credited Shultz and other mentors for his recognition.

“Without Susan, none of this would have been possible,” he said. “Her guidance and eye for detail is unparalleled. I am also grateful to have worked under former editor Joshua Fisher. I owe this award to them and to my always supportive family, and to our intellectually demanding yet always appreciative readership. I would not be where I am today without community support.”

Rounding out the nine awards received by The Darien Times Saturday were a third place win in special section for the Memorial Day section and second place for Darien Times’ cartoonist Doug Smith.

Originally published in The Darien Times.

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