TFP staffer Joan Garrett wins national award

photo Joan Garrett McClane

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COLLEGE PARK, MD. - Times Free Press reporter Joan Garrett won a national award Wednesday for her unflinching portrayal of an HIV-positive former crack-addicted prostitute trying to turn around her life.

Garrett won the 2011 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism in the single-article category for newspapers with fewer than 200,000 circulation.

The Palm Beach Post in Florida was a co-winner in the category.

The awards are administered by the Journalism Center on Children & Families at the University of Maryland. Fifteen medals were awarded in 12 categories out of 500 entries.

"Entries were screened and evaluated by 27 judges who looked for masterful storytelling, deep reporting and maximum impact that provided a fresh take on socially significant issues," the University of Maryland stated in a news release.

Garrett's story on Aquarnetta Porter, currently a student at Chattanooga State Technical Community College, was published Sept. 19, 2010, and chronicled her efforts to win back her youngest son.

"What distinguishes this story of recovery is the merciful lack of a tidy ending," judges wrote. "Joan Garrett's intimate portrait of an addict struggling to reclaim some of the life she discarded doesn't flinch from the pain of her subject or the obstacles she still faces, and it leaves the last word to the person most affected - the subject's young son."

The same story was a national finalist for the American Society of News Editors feature-writing award, won by The Washington Post. Porter's story has garnered state and regional honors as well.

"This honor is richly deserved," said Executive Editor J. Todd Foster. "Joan has a real talent for going beyond society's margins and telling the stories of the disadvantaged, disaffected and flawed."

Garrett, 26, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., was hired as a business reporter at the Times Free Press in 2007 and earned her master's degree in community journalism through the University of Alabama.