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Tireless reporter, muckraker and the SPJ Journalist of the Year: Lewis Kamb

“He is an exceptional journalist because he is equal parts dogged beat reporter, collaborative and persistent investigator, and creative and compelling writer…readers are so much better for his tenacious, multidimensional commitment to his craft and his role in democracy.” — Nomination letter for Journalist of the Year

SPJ Western Washington’s Journalist of the Year collaborated on a five-part series on one of America’s largest immigration detention centers, challenged the Tacoma city council to be more transparent in its hiring process and covered — with characteristic thoroughness and persistence — the city’s budget crisis.

The honor goes to Lewis Kamb, a reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune.

He and other SPJ Gala Award winners will be honored at SPJ’s annual Awards Gala Saturday, May 18 at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel.

“I was blown away by the news that SPJ had chosen me as its Journalist of the Year, because I recognize how  deep our pool of talented journalists runs in this region,” said Kamb. “It’s a humbling honor, really, but one I certainly didn’t ‘achieve’ on my own. I’m fortunate to work with a great team of editors, photographers, artists, copy editors and producers at The News Tribune who help me hone my work every day. This recognition belongs as much to them as to me.”

While he’s been at the News Tribune for nearly four years, Kamb’s name might also be familiar to Seattle area readers. He spent about a decade with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where he worked on some of the region’s most important investigative work, such as “Without a Trace,” the P-I’s groundbreaking investigation examining how police handle missing-persons cases. The series led to state and national reforms and helped authorities identify six sets of human remains.

SPJ’s award goes “to a local journalist who has made an impact both externally (with the public) and internally. The nominator must demonstrate to us that this person has had a standout year.” As you can see from excerpts of the letter below, Kamb did.

This year, Kamb coordinated his newspaper’s first collaboration with the nonprofit InvestigateWest. The results were a compelling and important five-part series, an online package and an e-book on one of America’s largest immigration detention centers, “Centers of Detention.” The project chronicled the untold story of how the center was built and expanded on a toxic dumpsite. After publication, government officials convened to come up with a new safety plan. And Kamb has not dropped the ball. He has already produced several follow-up articles.

Also this year:

• Kamb exposed – and shut down – the city council’s planned scheme to keep secret the identities of finalists for the position of city manager. Thanks to Kamb’s careful watch and persistence, the council adopted a last minute change that allowed a transparent and open council discussion.

• Kamb diligently tracked the city’s budget crisis, reporting details about layoffs, labor negotiations, last-minute concession deals, grant awards and other budget developments before such information was announced publicly. He complemented the daily coverage with several longer pieces that drilled down on the most significant proposed cutbacks for the next two years, including stories about cuts to public works and the fire department.

• Meanwhile, Kamb covered with distinction several state and federal election races, and broke significant news along the way, including details about Senate candidate Jack Connelly’s record spending and Congressman Adam Smith’s move out of Tacoma.

Kamb has also written for the Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald, Knight-Ridder’s Washington, D.C. bureau, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Seattle Times.

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