2007 Burns Award Winners Report on Immigration, War and Elections

May 312007

Three Burns alumni won the 2007 Burns and Kennan Commentary Awards on May 15. The award-winning stories tackle: life on the Texas-Mexico border; twins’ quest to become marines in Iraq; and analysis of the U.S. Presidential elections.

Michael Weissenborn (right) was awarded the German Burns Award. During his acceptance, he stands beside his proud wife Ulrike.

Michael Weissenborn (Burns 1996) worked as foreign editor at Stuttgarter Zeitung until he took a sabbatical last year to move to El Paso, TX. He won the German Burns Award for his "Texas Privat,” a 20-part series published throughout the fall and winter of 2007. Weissenborn covered multiple topics, including U.S.-Mexican border issues, U.S. citizens’ right to bear arms, and Indian reservations. The personal essays invoked in-depth political analysis of U.S. society, its traditions and challenges.

James Hagengruber (Burns 2002), who was laid off by the Spokesman (Spokane, Wash.) Review at the end of last year, won the U.S. Burns Award for “Boom! Du bist tot! (Boom! You are dead!),” published in German by

From left to right: Burns Alumnus James Hagengruber, Former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Burns Trustee Sabine Christiansen, Karsten Voigt, Burns Alumnus Jacob Heilbrunn.

Süddeutsche Zeitung on November 6, after the original English version ran in the Spokesman Review. Hagengruber’s story covers 19-year-old twins from Idaho on their way to become U.S. Marines. The award jury noted that the reporting project had “excellent and nowadays rarely practiced in-depth research, which shows that–contrary to general trends and public and media opinion–young Americans can be so fascinated with the Iraq War that they want to participate personally.” Despite the tile, the story is based on a sensible portrait of two young Americans facing a difficult decision. Hagengruber has meanwhile expanded on his coverage of the twins, joining their unit as an embedded reporter in Kuwait and Iraq this spring.

The two 2,000-Euro prizes were awarded by Germany’s Foreign Minister. Hagengruber received his honor at the annual Burns Alumni dinner and lecture on May 15 in Berlin, while Weissenborn will be honored by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth at his Washington residence on July 23.

James Hagengruber (right) received the honor for his article on two twins' quest to join the U.S. marines.

Honorary mentions were received by a German and American 2007 Burns fellow, who both won for stories published as part of their fellowship last year. Christian Rüttger, Berlin-based editor for Reuters, was lauded for his story “The Long Haul,” published in the Anchorage Daily News on October 14, and Tanya Schevitz, reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle, for her series titled “Eine Amerikanerin im Allgäu (An American in the Allgäu),” published weekly in August and September by Allgäuer Zeitung.

Rüttger’s article addressed the dangers and temptations for truck drivers along the 414-mile-long Dalton Highway through the Alaskan tundra. Schevitz’s nine-part series tackled episodes and impressions gained as a single mother, big-city girl and passionate driver in the rural, pre-alpine lands of southwestern Bavaria. Both authors stimulated intensive debates through letters to the editor and emails to the reporters. The communication with the Burns fellows was especially interesting, as both were foreign to their host country and could speak openly about regional traditions and taboos.

The 2,000-Euro George F. Kennan Commentary Award went to U.S. journalist and Burns alumnus Jacob Heilbrunn (1994).

Jacob Heilbrunn (right) was awarded for his commentary on the U.S. election campaign.

As White House correspondent for National Interest magazine Heilbrunn won for his story “Ami, go home,” published in the magazine of Süddeutschen Zeitung on December 7.

The jury noted that Heilbrunn managed to write a “very sophisticated analysis of the U.S. election campaign, which highlights the specifics of this year's race for the White House and includes some surprising insights. The author explains how a hapless U.S. President rejuvenated American liberals and their cause—which had become more and more discredited until President Bush rekindled their enthusiasm. Heilbrunn compares Bush to Al Gore, who–almost simultaneously to Bush’s fall in public opinion polls–gained public prestige.”

The jury also pointed out the fine work of illustrator Christoph Niemann, whose prominent drawings of annual vignettes of the Bush era contributed significantly to the appeal of the presentation for this commentary story.

The jury for both awards was composed of journalists Sabine Christiansen (ARD), Dr. Christoph von Marschall (Tagesspiegel), Claus Strunz (Bild am Sonntag), Florian Illies (Die Zeit/Monopol) and Dominik Wichmann (Süddeutsche Zeitung), as well as Dr. Frank-Dieter Freiling (ZDF) and Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig (Foreign Ministry of Germany).

2006 Burns Award Winners
2005 Burns Award Winners
2004 Burns Award Winners
2003 Burns Award Winners
2002 Burns Award Winners