Larry Peterson award winner says people need trusted source

By Ireal James, SPJ Region 3 Intern

After the arrest of Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason for requesting open records in Pickens County, Georgia, many journalists show interest in how this story will unfold including one investigative journalist from Savannah, Georgia.

“It is absurd that judges can put someone in jail for doing their job,” said Savannah Morning News Environmental Reporter Mary Landers.

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Mary Landers is an environmental journalist from the Savannah Morning News and winner of 2015 Larry Peterson Award.

Landers, who often requests open records in her investigative work, says “it can be frustrating because you don’t always get what you want.” The reporter said the process of requesting open records can be lengthy especially if you do not know what exactly you are asking for in the request.

The website states an environmental reporter it is a journalist who covers the environment in Savannah including pollution, energy issues and how the area fits into the global picture.

“Your work really matters to people – people are always going to need good information from a trusted source,” she said.

Landers said in her position she is able to get a feel for the area where she lives and shares her experiences with colleagues at the newspaper who welcome her ideas.

As an environmental reporter, Landers has won awards for her environmental stories.

One is the 2015 Larry Peterson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism in response for her work on the Palmetto Pipeline, an investigative story covering the effects of the pipeline system in Savannah and Georgia. In her most recent June 24 article, “Pipeline study group forming in Georgia to look at eminent domain,” she said gasoline pipelines could cut through the most sensitive environmental areas of the state.

As the Larry Peterson Awards approach this fall 2016 and again in the spring 2017, Landers said she is appreciative to former colleague Larry Peterson and his wife for their influence on journalists in the field.

“He was a great guy both professionally and personally,” she said about the journalist who passed in 2014.

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Larry Peterson

Peterson spent over a decade at the Savannah Morning News and used his investigative skills to cover stories and also authored both fiction and non-fiction books about journalists working in the South. The award ceremony started in memorial of Peterson’s dedication to investigative journalism.

In the meantime, Landers said she will continue her investigative work despite the recent case of a jailed investigative reporter requesting government open records.

All charges were dropped on July 18 against journalist Mark Thomason and his attorney in Pickens County court.

Ireal James mug
Ireal James

Ireal James, an upcoming senior at Mercer University, is a Mercer Cluster Staff Writer and Board Operator at WMUB in Macon, Georgia. James is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana but lives in Georgia. She is a writer who has an interest in photography and videography that involves storytelling. She also works for ESPN3 where she has experience in working with camera equipment, camera operation, audio operation, etc. during live production broadcasts for sports games. James is the Photographer/Videographer for the Mercer University Chapter of the National Society of Negro Women as well as the Director of Marketing for the Mercer University Miracle Executive Board, an organization that fundraises for patients at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital at Navicent Health in Macon, Georgia. James aspires to be a screenwriter for movies who happens to be a journalist interested in the coverage of stories untold previously. James’ portfolio is at and her contact is