The winner of this year’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism says he’s propelled by asking if people are suffering needlessly and whether his work can help alleviate that suffering.

Colby College is awarding its 2013 Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award to A.C. Thompson, an investigative reporter for ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom and online news source that specializes in investigative public-interest journalism.

The award was restricted to newspaper journalists from its conception in 1952 through 2010, when it was opened up to other media. Thompson is the first online journalist to receive the award and the second journalist outside of newspapers, following National Public Radio correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in 2011.

The Lovejoy Award is named for a Colby graduate who was killed in 1837 while defending his press against a pro-slavery mob in Illinois.

Past recipients include Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, political columnist David Broder, Washington political reporter Bob Woodward and Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was honored posthumously after he was abducted and slain in Pakistan.

“To be in that company is absolutely incredible, but more importantly to be recognized for doing work in that sort of vein that matters and is about bringing about some modicum of justice in this world and saying things that not everybody wants to hear,” Thompson said. “Saying things that aren’t always popular, doing stories that bear a certain amount of risk and that aren’t easy to do. That’s the thing that’s rewarding to me.”

Colby is recognizing Thompson for stories that led to federal charges against seven New Orleans police officers in connection with the shooting of civilians after Hurricane Katrina.

He will accept the award and an honorary Colby doctorate at a formal convocation at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Colby’s Lorimer Chapel. The event, which includes a speech by Thompson, is open to the public.

Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and chairwoman of the Lovejoy Award selection committee, said Thompson has focused his skills on “some of the nation’s darkest corners.”

“His work has ranged from exposing police officers who were later charged with shooting unarmed civilians to probes of misconduct in assisted living homes,” she said in a statement. “Throughout, A.C.’s reporting has been courageous and exhaustive.”

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