Former Sunflower editor earns prestigious national award


Two years out of college, former editor of The Sunflower Chance Swaim was awarded the George Polk Award for political reporting along with other Wichita Eagle reporters, Dion Lefler and Jonathan Shorman.

Former Sunflower editor in chief Chance Swaim was one of three Wichita Eagle reporters to be awarded the George Polk Award for political reporting for work that included the investigation of former Mayor Jeff Longwell’s city contracts, the Brandon Whipple smear advertisements, and election night in Wichita.

The other Eagle reporters honored were Dion Lefler and Jonathan Shorman. This is the first time any Wichita Eagle staffers have won the award.

The George Polk Awards are one of the most prestigious honors an American journalist can receive. Winners in the political category can cover either local or national issues.

Swaim, who served as Sunflower editor during the 2017-18 school year, said his time at the college publication prepared him for reporting on the stories that matter.

“The Sunflower is a breeding ground for investigative reporting,” Swaim said. “By the time I graduated, I was used to officials being guarded with information and not telling the full story. So having to take my own initiative to try and find out the truth was a big deal there.”

Swaim credited The Sunflower’s adviser, Amy DeVault, for teaching him how to do his “due diligence” as a journalist. He also said his editor at The Eagle, Jean Hays, was invaluable in helping him get to the heart of the story.

“[Hays is] astonishingly great,” Swaim said. “She helped so much with this, and you don’t get a lot of credit as an editor, but man, the story wouldn’t have been possible without her.”

Just two years out of college, Swaim said he didn’t expect to be winning prestigious awards so quickly. He said it was his dream to earn one of these awards by the end of his career and hoped to “even sniff one of these.” He said he was shocked to find out that he had won.

“When I found out, it was amazing, because The New York Times and Washington Post have won this the last three years,” Swaim said. “They don’t give it out every year [the political category], and in a year where we saw movement with impeachment and more reports on stuff going on in Washington D.C. with the Trump presidency, to get this national award with local reporting is just amazing.”

With national political narratives routinely capturing the spotlight, Swaim said this isn’t just a win for himself and the other Eagle staffers, but a win for local journalists across the country.

“I think it’s a really big deal for local journalism,” he said. “There’s a general feeling out there that the work we do is not always appreciated and watched by a national audience. It’s so essential to our country to have local journalists working in the trenches every day.

“If there’s no local paper doing the digging, these stories will go untold. The public deserves to know what’s going on in their community because there’s a lot of money being spent in mid-sized cities like Wichita that is going unchecked, which is a real threat to our democracy.”

Swaim, Lefler, and Shorman will be honored at a ceremony in New York City in April.