2023 Honor Medalists hold master classes for students at Missouri School of Journalism

Missouri Honor Medal. Left to right: Paul Radu, Drew Sullivan, Linda Rutherford and Dean David Kurpius

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (Sept. 21, 2023) — On Sept. 14, before receiving their prestigious Honor Medals for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism, this year’s honorees continued the tradition of delivering master classes to students based on their firsthand experiences in the industry.

Drew Sullivan
Drew Sullivan
Paul Radu
Paul Radu

Drew Sullivan and Paul Radu, representing the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), discussed journalism’s role in uncovering eye-popping global money laundering schemes, while Linda Rutherford, chief administration and communications officer for Southwest Airlines, told students what happened behind the scenes as the airline sought to manage a crisis during a winter storm that brought operations to a halt.

“The Missouri Method is about stepping into the shoes of journalists and strategic communicators to learn what they do, and this year’s medalists embraced that philosophy by offering insights that only veterans of the industry would know,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School of Journalism.

The OCCRP is a collaborative reporting network that has led or played a key role in bombshell reporting projects such as the Panama PapersSuisse Secrets, the Pandora Papers, the Pegasus Project and OpenLux. Co-founders Sullivan and Radu detailed an array of methods for discovering traces of criminal activity, from combing publicly available bank records revealed in lawsuits to interviewing banks about their security practices.

“Woody Allen said, ’90 percent of life is showing up,’ and in reporting that is really true,” Sullivan said, noting that he got his start reporting on organized crime when he followed a hunch that casinos in Missouri might have ties to known criminals. A look through public records proved him right.

The pair also addressed the phenomenon of “state capture,” in which organized crime undermines countries politically, socially and economically in order to gain the influence required to install large-scale money laundering operations. Radu pointed out that in many cases, citizens of these cases are unaware of what is going on behind the scenes, making journalism’s role crucial as a means of exposing the truth.

“I remember going to Budapest and saying, well, you need to focus on organized crime,” Radu said. “They said, we don’t have organized crime. But I knew for a fact that one of the biggest Russian mobsters resided in Budapest and did business there.”

Linda Rutherford (right) is interviewed by Sigi Ris
Linda Rutherford (right) is interviewed by Sigi Ris

Linda Rutherford took students through Southwest Airlines’ disastrous December 2022 — in which 23 of the airline’s 30 largest airports were severely impacted by winter weather, including the major travel centers of Denver and Chicago — from the perspective of a public relations veteran, charting the situation’s evolution from a winter storm to an “operational crisis” and her responsibilities to various audiences.

Specifically, she laid out three stages of crisis response: respond with compassion and action, recover with transparency and restore with authenticity. Through it all, she emphasized the value of humanizing executives and others responsible for communication with the public.

“We felt convinced that video communication would be a very important part of the response strategy,” Rutherford said. “You needed to not just see the words but hear the tone in their voices.”

She also outlined the concept of “radical transparency” as a means of connecting with audiences — internal and external — in a way that transcends a more typical relationship between a corporation and the press.

“Radical transparency is when you share the things you know are not helpful to you but are important,” she said. “There is no sugarcoating something like this, so we felt transparency was what we needed to help us reset.”

Both master classes ended with calls to action for the student journalists and strategic communicators in attendance. For Sullivan and Radu, the message was about the responsibilities that come with covering international organized crime as a journalist.

“There are no international police, really,” Sullivan said. “The only enemy of organized crime on a global scale is investigative reporters.”

Rutherford closed by urging students to find beauty in storytelling opportunities even in the most difficult situations.

“We had employees in a gate area playing with children who were trapped in the airport,” Rutherford said. “We started to purposefully tell stories about what our employees were doing, and we were able to find the stories of people doing good things in extraordinary situations.”

To learn more about the 2023 recipients of the Missouri Honor Medal, click here.

Updated: September 21, 2023

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