January 17, 2024
“Still Loading,” The Markup investigation, which exposed vast disparities in internet service quality from four major providers, earned the first place prize in the 2023 Philip Meyer Journalism Award.
The Meyer Award recognizes the best uses of social science research methods in journalism. It is named for Philip Meyer, the author of “Precision Journalism,” who pioneered the use of empirical methods to empower better journalism. Read more about Meyer and his legacy here.
Bloomberg News earned the second place award for “Power Plays,” a project that exposed how large U.K. power companies manipulated the country’s feckless energy system to reap profits. Third place goes to a collaboration between Lighthouse Reports, WIRED, Vers Beton and Open Rotterdam for “Inside the Suspicion Machine,” a series that traced the deployment of predictive AI in European welfare systems.
The judges have also given two special citations in the 2023 Philip Meyer Journalism Award:
The winners will be honored at the 2024 NICAR Conference, March 7-10 in Baltimore. 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.
First place: “Still Loading,” The Markup
Leon Yin, Aaron Sankin, Joel Eastwood, Gabriel Hongsdusit, Paroma Soni, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Evelyn Larrubia, Sisi Wei
Judges’ comments: For The Markup’s “Still Loading,” reporters gathered and analyzed 800,000 internet service offers from telecom giants in dozens of cities, finding they routinely offered the worst deals to households in lower-income, less white and historically redlined neighborhoods. The reporters adapted methods from an academic study to identify internet offers by address and then used Census data and historical maps to tell a powerful story about a critical social injustice. The judges applaud the team for their resourcefulness, robust validation process and, along with their partner Big Local News, commitment to sharing their bespoke mapping tool with the public.
Second place: “Power Plays,” Bloomberg News
Gavin Finch, Todd Gillespie, Jason Grotto, Sam Dodge, Alex Campbell
Judges’ comments: For “Power Plays,” Bloomberg News analyzed millions of records obtained through a national data portal and additional records on renewable energy subsidies. The team’s reporting exposed methods that large U.K. power companies used to manipulate the country’s energy system for profit, saddling customers with extra costs. This took place during an energy crisis that caused havoc, including forcing elderly people and low-income families into warming shelters. The judges commend the stories for shining an important spotlight on companies that usually avoid scrutiny despite their impact on people’s everyday lives.
Third place: “Inside the Suspicion Machine,” Lighthouse Reports, WIRED, Vers Beton, Open Rotterdam
Gabriel Geiger, Eva Constantaras, Justin-Casimir Braun, Evaline Schot, Dhruv Mehrotra, Saskia Klaassen, Romy van Dijk, Matthew Burgess, Morgan Meaker, Kyle Thomas, Daniel Howden, Andrew Couts, James Temperton, Eeva Liukku, David Davidson, Danielle Carrick, Htet Aung, Alyssa Walker, Raagul Nagendran, Hari Moorthy, Ishita Tiwari, Lily Boyce, Sascha Meijer, and Roelof van der Meer
Judges’ comments: In “Inside the Suspicion Machine,” Lighthouse Reports, WIRED, Vers Beton and Open Rotterdam gained rare access to the algorithms used to choose subjects for welfare fraud investigations. After nearly one and a half years of negotiation, the reporters obtained the underlying computer code used to flag Rotterdam’s residents, which could cut them off from services and even target them for raids. By studying and testing the risk scoring algorithm, they learned that it did only marginally better than random chance, and targeted people based on their native language, gender and even how they dressed. From there, the reporters followed two archetypes, as typified by more than 300 characteristics, to show audiences the arbitrary, and at times prejudiced, logic of the system. The judges remarked on how rarely news organizations gain access to these often proprietary lines of code, and how important they are to holding governments accountable for their actions.
Special citation: “Putin and Orbán's Media Masquerade: Projecting Unity and Tension in the EU,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Current Time Digital and Szabad Európa
Judges’ comments: "Putin and Orbán's Media Masquerade" is a timely investigation that used textual analysis, such as topic clusterization, to show how Russian and Hungarian propaganda have been interwoven since the war in Ukraine began, and how Hungary supported Russia's invasion. The visualizations were particularly helpful in displaying the analysis of data from 15,000 headlines from the propaganda machines of both countries. The project should inspire other journalists to investigate shared propaganda and disinformation between political parties and countries.
Special citation: “Unhoused and Undercounted,” The Center for Public Integrity in partnership with The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist
Judges’ comments: “Unhoused and Undercounted” told the story of the roughly 300,000 children and youth in the United States who are entitled to rights reserved for homeless students, but are going unidentified by school districts that have the legal obligation to help them. This collective oversight results in the students, disproportionately Black and Latino, lacking the critical support they need to stay in school, graduate and obtain referrals for health care and housing: In short, basic civil rights. Due to its nationwide approach, this analysis broke new ground by measuring the gap between identified and actual homelessness within school districts across the United States. The judges noted the data was also made available to local newsrooms, which was key to the project’s success in telling a story that holds educators to account for failing to serve their most vulnerable students.
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 influential 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 2023 Philip Meyer Journalism Award were:
The Philip Meyer Journalism Award follows the rules of the IRE Awards 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 4,500 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.
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