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2018 Philip Meyer Award winners announced

An investigation that found hundreds of unaccounted for deaths from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is the first-place winner of the 2018 Philip Meyer Journalism Awards. The other top awards go to an investigation that used scientific testing to uncover environmental hazards in Philadelphia’s public schools and an analysis that revealed philanthropists were getting tax breaks for donated stocks to their private foundations.

“Philip Meyer once warned journalists that social science methods raise the ante on what it takes to be a journalist. This year, entries in the Philip Meyer Award upped the ante again, this time by weaving their analyses into narratives and under deadline” said Sarah Cohen, a contest judge and the Knight Chair in Data Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. “Each year, the entries have become more sophisticated. This year, the winners and those who entered showed how journalists can marry storytelling, data analysis and empirical methods.”

The 2018 winners are:

First place: “Hurricane Maria’s Dead,” a collaboration of Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, Quartz and The Associated Press
Centro de Periodismo Investigativo: Omaya Sosa Pascual, Carla Minet, Laura Candelas, Jeniffer Wiscovitch, Laura Moscoso, Víctor Rodríguez, David Cordero, Luis Trelles, Cindy Burgos, Mari Mari Narvaez, Edmy Ayala and Emmanuel Estrada.
Quartz: Ana Campoy, Youyou Zhou, Caitlin Hu, David Yanofsky, Daniel Wolfe, Nikhil Sonnad, Feli Sanchez, Max de Haldevang and Amanda Shendruk.
The Associated Press: Michael Weissenstein, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Luis Alonso, Claudia Torrens, Ben Fox, Danica Coto, Maricarmen Rivera, Gisela Salomón, Larry Fenn, Troy Thibodeaux, Mark Thiessen, Rachel D'oro and Dan Joling.

Judges’ comments: “Hurricane Maria’s Dead” followed a sample of deaths from Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. The investigation found that neglect from the government accounted for hundreds of deaths that had not been counted by officials. In a project that hearkened to Philip Meyer’s groundbreaking work, the team used a survey combined with official records and hundreds of interviews to uncover the massive undercount of fatalities. The results, which were later confirmed by a study but are still not accepted as official tolls according to the government, helped serve as a public memorial for the dead as well as a road map for preventing such deaths in the future.

Second place: “Toxic City: Sick Schools,” by Wendy Ruderman, Barbara Laker and Dylan Purcell of The Philadelphia Inquirer

Judges’ comments: “Toxic City: Sick Schools” demonstrates how scientific testing, when designed properly, can lead to unique and powerful investigations. Through innovative crowdsourcing, public school teachers and staff were deployed as environmental testers using a scientific testing protocol. The testing provided the much broader and comprehensive scope needed to assess patterns throughout the system. The team combined test results with more than 250,000 room-by-room environmental records, which further bolstered their findings.

Third place: “Uncharitable Giving,” by Andrea Fuller of The Wall Street Journal

Judges’ comments: Fuller took established research to new and impressive heights to demonstrate that some philanthropists were getting tax breaks for donated stocks to their private foundations. The philanthropists wrote off the value of the stocks on the day of the donations, before they plunged in value. The tax write-offs were generous. After digging into thousands of foundation tax returns, Fuller identified more than 14,000 gifts made since 2011 worth more than $25,000. The story directed a spotlight on wealthy individuals such as junk bond king Michael Milken, who was involved decades ago in one of Wall Street’s largest insider trading scandals.

Honorable mention: “In The Dark: Jury Selection Analysis,” by APM Reports

APM Reports: Madeleine Baran, Samara Freemark, Rehman Tungekar, Natalie Jablonski, Will Craft, Parker Yesko, Curtis Gilbert, Catherine Winter, Dave Mann and Andy Kruse.

Judges’ comments: As part of a six-part exploration of an African-American man tried for the same crime six times, APM Reports investigated the local prosecutor’s disproportionate exclusion of blacks on juries. The judges noted the unusual and artful presentation of powerful narrative underscored the sophisticated analysis.

The Meyer Award recognizes the best uses of empirical methods in journalism. The awards will be presented on March 8 in Newport Beach, California, during the 2019 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference. The first-place winner will receive $500; second- and third-place winners will receive $300 and $200, respectively. The award is administered by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a joint program of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Meyer Award honors Philip Meyer, professor emeritus and former Knight Chair of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer is the author of “Precision Journalism,” the seminal 1973 book that encouraged journalists to incorporate social science methods in the pursuit of better journalism. As a reporter, he also pioneered the use of survey research for Knight-Ridder newspapers while exploring the causes of race riots in the 1960s.

The judges for the Philip Meyer Award for Precision Journalism were:

  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Chair in Data Journalism at Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Dana Chinn, lecturer at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
  • Brant Houston, Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jennifer LaFleur, data editor at The Investigative Reporting Workshop
  • David McKie, Investigative Producer in CBC News’ Parliamentary Bureau
  • Giannina Segnini, Knight Chair in Data Journalism and Director of the M.S. in Data Journalism Program at Columbia University
  • Jodi Upton, Knight Chair in Data and Explanatory Journalism at Syracuse University

The Philip Meyer Journalism Award follows the rules of the IRE Awards in its efforts to avoid conflicts of interest. Work that included any significant role by a Meyer Award contest judge may not be entered in the contest. This often represents a significant sacrifice on the part of the individual — and sometimes an entire newsroom. The IRE membership appreciates this devotion to the values of the organization.

IRE works to foster excellence in investigative journalism, which is essential to a free society. Founded in 1975, IRE has more than 5,500 members worldwide. Headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism, IRE provides training, resources and a community of support to investigative journalists; promotes high professional standards; and protects the rights of investigative journalists. The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting was founded by the Missouri School of Journalism in 1989 and became a collaboration between the school and IRE in 1994.

For questions concerning the 2018 Philip Meyer Award winners, please contact:

  • Doug Haddix, IRE Executive Director,
  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Chair in Data Journalism at Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
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