AU Journalism Advisory Council to recognize honored journalists who impacted state, nation  

The Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council is pleased to present this year’s five journalism award winners. 

The 2019 Auburn Journalism Award winners are: Kim Chandler, Associated Press capital reporter; Carol Nunnelley, former Birmingham News managing editor and founder of BirminghamWatch; Connor Sheets, Alabama Media Group investigative reporter; John Underwood, Baldwin County editor/reporter; and John Zenor, Associated Press sports reporter.  

The luncheon and program will take place on Friday, Sept. 13, at 11:30 a.m. at the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities (Pebble Hill). Tickets are $45 each. The annual awards will be presented during the luncheon, and are hosted by the Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council. The Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities is located at 101 S. Debardeleben St., in Auburn.

Kim Chandler, Auburn Journalism Class of 1994, has covered the Alabama Statehouse for more than 20 years, currently with the AP. “Kim is a tremendous journalist with a deep understanding of Alabama and its politics,” said Jim Van Anglen, AP Deep South editor. “She has a real knack for telling stories that resonate not only in Alabama but across the country.”

Chandler is the Distinguished AU Journalism Alumnus Award winner. She was nominated by her predecessor covering the Statehouse for the AP, Auburn journalism faculty member Phil Rawls. “I am one of many citizens who appreciate having her as a watchdog of Alabama government,” he wrote in his nomination.

A graduate of Samford University, Carol Nunnelley is founder of BirminghamWatch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism effort. It provides investigative reporting on key issues facing Birmingham and the state of Alabama at a time when many organizations are cutting such efforts back. Before helping to start Birmingham Watch, Nunnelley was an investigative reporter and later managing editor for the Birmingham News, and also served as a program developer for AP Managing Editors.

 Nunnelley is the Distinguished Mass Media Achievement Award winner. 

“You can break down Carol Nunnelley’s journalism career into four acts,” said Alec Harvey, adviser to The Auburn Plainsman student newspaper and Nunnelley’s former colleague at the News. “Any of those acts would be worthy of honor.”

In his four years with the Alabama Media Group, Connor Sheets has left a major impact on the Alabama landscape through his investigative reporting. He is perhaps best known for his series on county sheriffs who allegedly underfed inmates while pocketing the excess funds, as allowed by Alabama law that has since been changed. His work is much broader, of course, and has also focused on efforts to restore the voting rights of paroled prisoners and investigations into the actions of then-Gov. Robert Bentley, along with daily breaking news duties.

Sheets is the Roy Bain Distinguished Special Achievement in Journalism Award winner. 

“I firmly believe Alabama is a better place because of watchdog journalists like Connor holding our elected officials accountable,” said Kendra Carter, Council vice chair, in her nomination.

For the residents of central Baldwin County, John Underwood has been synonymous with community journalism for the past 30 years. Underwood has served in a variety of roles with several newspapers, most recently the Onlooker in Foley.

“From covering football games every Friday night to weekly council meetings, from event coverage to breaking crime news, John is always ready and on the spot to provide news and information to his readers,” said Cliff McCollum, a former Gulf Coast Media managing editor, in nominating Underwood.

Underwood is the John Stephenson Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist Award winner. The community journalism award was named to honor John Stephenson, long-time editor and publisher of the Randolph Leader, earlier this year. Stephenson was a long-time member of the Advisory Council, and a leader in Alabama community journalism.

John Zenor has spent 20-plus years in sports writing with the Associated Press, providing college and high school coverage of Alabama schools. His articles have a wide reach, appearing in AP member newspapers throughout the nation.

Zenor is the Distinguished Alabama Community Sports Journalist Award winner. 

“John demonstrates the work ethic and nimble professional skills we try to develop in our students,” said John Carvalho, who teaches sports journalism courses within the major. “I do believe that he can cover any sport at any level of competition and do it extremely well.”

Zenor has been an active member and former president of the Alabama Sportswriters Association and has been honored with the organization’s prestigious Bill Shelton Award.
The AU Journalism Advisory Council established these awards in 2004 to recognize and celebrate the best and most enduring professionals in its field, both in this state and those outside it with Alabama roots.  Only the AU Journalism Alumnus award must go to someone with Auburn connections.

“Whether working for long-established national journalism cooperatives, community outlets, or even aggressive online start-ups,” said Carvalho, associate director for journalism in the School of Communication and Journalism, “these individuals show that Alabama’s news consumers are getting quality information in all media forms.”

For more information on the program, or if interested in attending, contact John Carvalho by calling 334-844-4454, or e-mailing


Last Updated: August 23, 2019