Photo: Shabnam MogharabiIt had been a good National Editorial Conference for Shabnam Mogharabi.

Selected as one of seven Young Leaders Scholarship winners, she had gotten an extra boost during the July 20 awards banquet. The feature series she had written for Aquatics International was honored with a Gold, bringing congratulations all around
for the Hanley Wood editors acknowledged with her.

But she was not ready for the Stephen Barr Award.

That honor — the third annual individual feature-writing prize bestowed by ASBPE and endowed by the parents of Stephen Barr’s parents, Judith and Charles Barr, who were both in attendance — came at the very end of the banquet, just after Computerworld and CSO claimed their Magazine of the Year trophies. The honor comes with a check
for $500 and a handsome crystal trophy.

When her name was called, Mogharabi put her hand to her face in shock. It stayed there all the way up to the microphone.

By coincidence, also in attendance was one of her magazine professors at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where she had received
a graduate degree only two years before. (She received her undergraduate degree in 2002 from the University of Southern California.) The professor, Abe Peck, there to introduce Lifetime Achievement Award winner Stan Modic, likewise was caught off-guard.

‘Minority Report’

Mogharabi, business editor of Hanley Wood’s Pool & Spa News, won the Barr Award for her two part series,“Minority Report,” written for sister magazine Aquatics International’s October and November/December issues in 2005.

“Minority Report” dug deep for explanations about why American minority youths account for a disproportionately high percentage of drowning deaths, and suggested ways to improve efforts to save lives.

The series made a significant contribution to the professionals who are the magazine’s readers, and also pointed up an under-reported malady in need of correction.

Said Mogharabi’s editor at Los Angeles-based Pool & Spa News, Erika Taylor, “As is typical for her, she became deeply involved in the topic, interviewing more than 50 sources, and combing through myriad government documents. The result was a piece of journalism that stands among the best I’ve read during my tenure with this magazine.”

Comments by others

Judges noted Ms. Mogharabi’s sensitive yet dispassionate handling of a complex, emotional issue. “The series was written with authority, compassion and intelligence,” said one. “Compelling from start to finish.”

A sidebar on limited career opportunities among young Hispanic and black nonswimmers was especially enlightening.

Others were moved as well after reading copies of the articles made available at the Conference. In his July 31 Computerworld column, editor-in-chief Don Tennant wrote that besides winning Magazine-of-the-Year honors, “there was something else I enjoyed just as much: the opportunity to meet a certain journalist who also received a prestigious ASBPE award. That journalist is Shabnam Mogharabi. …

“I was impressed enough with Mogharabi to be compelled to read her story, and I was appalled by the stereotyping she uncovered. The story referenced a 1969 study called ‘The Negro and Learning to Swim,’ which contended that blacks are biologically less buoyant than whites because of higher bone density and body mass. Despite dozens of subsequent studies that have proved this outlandish notion to be false, it seems many black parents continue to buy into the belief. …”

Discerning judgment

Her application for ASBPE’s Young Leaders Scholarship displayed sharp insights about challenges facing the business- to-business press.

Noting that her coworkers are “bright, talented, creative people who would thrive in any segment of the publishing world, regardless of the audience,” she observed that such excellence exists despite business-to-business being “stigmatized” as inferior to the mainstream media.

“And more journalism schools need to talk about the business press as a viable, fulfilling career path,” she said.

Her embarrassment didn’t stop at the banquet. The last jolt was left to Don Tennant, who wondered aloud several times during his Magazine of the Year case study session the next morning whether Mogharabi would be working for his magazine some day.

“Are you listening, Shabnam?” he asked.

For her feature series “Minority Report”
in Aquatics Inernational
October/November 2005
Read Part 1: In the Minority
Read Part 2: Reaching Out
Shabnam Mogharabi (third from left) accepts her Barr award. With her are Charles and Judith Barr (far left and far right), parents of Stephen Barr, the reporter for whom the award is named. Standing next to Mogharabi is Abe Peck, her former professor at the Medill School of Journalism.

About the Stephen Barr Award

The Stephen Barr Award is named for one of the ASBPE’s most-honored journalists, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 43. Unlike other ASBPE awards, it honors individual writing from among the best entries in all editorial feature categories, especially work that reflects the qualities of inventiveness, insight, balance, depth of investigation, and impact on readers. A check for $500 accompanies the award.