Investigations that exposed local government corruption from New Orleans to Detroit, human-rights abuses by the federal government and international organized crime are among the work honored in the 2008 Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards.

This year’s top prize, the IRE Medal, was given to WWL-New Orleans for its dogged rolling investigation of a city-run housing nonprofit that falsely claimed to have fixed homes in desperate need of repair after Hurricane Katrina and the contractors who pocketed the money without doing the work. Through compelling storytelling, the station tackled a serious issue that had received little attention and did so in the face of immense political pressure.

The awards also recognized stories that captured the nation’s attention, including the Detroit Free Press’ exposé on the mayor’s electronic messages, and those that tackled issues of international importance, such as McClatchy Newspapers’ series on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

This year’s winners include collaborations among news organizations and work from nontraditional newsrooms: the online-only voiceofsandiego.org, the coalition of journalists who formed the Chauncey Bailey Project, and the Center for Public Integrity and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which won the Renner crime award for detailing global organized crime in tobacco smuggling.

Project winners fought court battles to examine text messages and e-mail correspondence sent by government officials and examined cyber-warfare that exposed online security problems at federal agencies, including the Pentagon.

Investigative author James Bamford became a three-time IRE winner with his latest examination of the National Security Agency, “The Shadow Factory,” which won the book award.

“What’s remarkable about these stellar investigations this year is that they were produced under the worst economic pressures our industry has ever faced,” said James V. Grimaldi, chairman of the contest committee. “Some news organizations facing possible bankruptcy and massive job cuts have continued to pursue watchdog journalism that will make our society and the world a better place to live.”

The awards, given by Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 15 categories across media platforms and a range of market sizes. The contest, which began in 1979, received more than 380 entries this year.

Below Top 20 Markets – IRE Medal winner: Lee Zurik of WWL-New Orleans for “NOAH Housing Program.”

Tom Renner Award: Stefan Candea, Duncan Campbell, Te-Ping Chen, Gong Jing, Alain Lallemand, Vlad Lavrov, William Marsden, Paul Cristian Radu, Roman Shleynov, Leo Sisti, Drew Sullivan, Marina Walker Guevara, Kate Willson, David E. Kaplan of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Center for Public Integrity for “Tobacco Underground: The Booming Global Trade in Smuggled Cigarettes.”

FOI Award: Wayne Dolcefino, Steve Bivens and David Defranchi of KTRK-Houston for “The E-Mail Trail.”

Largest newspapers (Over 500,000 & wire service) (Tie): Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick, David Zeman, Jennifer Dixon and Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press for “A Mayor in Crisis.”

Largest newspapers (Over 500,000 & wire service) (Tie): Tom Lasseter and Matthew Schofield of McClatchy Newspapers for “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law.”

Large newspapers (250,000-500,000): Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times for “Culture of Resistance.”

Medium newspapers (100,000?250,000): Thomas Peele, Mary Fricker, Bob Butler, Josh Richman and A.C. Thompson of The Chauncey Bailey Project for “The Chauncey Bailey Project investigation.”

Small newspapers (Circulation under 100,000): Tim Fields and Joy Blackburn of The Virgin Islands Daily News for “Hospital Corruption.”

Local-circulation weeklies: Joaquin Sapien and Ben Welsh of the Fort Worth Weekly and the Center for Public Integrity for “Hear No Evil, Smell No Evil.”

Network/Syndicated: Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Scott Pelley, Solly Granatstein, Nicole Young, Lamy Li, Kevin Livelli, Brad Simpson, David Lom and Tom Honeysett of CBS News–60 Minutes for “The Wasteland.”

Top 20 Markets: Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg of KNBC-Los Angeles for “Contaminated Water.”

Magazine/Specialty Publication: Keith Epstein, Brian Grow, Ben Elgin, Cliff Edwards and Chi-Chu Tschang of BusinessWeek for “Cyber-War.”

Book: James Bamford for “The Shadow Factory.”

Radio: Laura Sullivan, Amy Walters and Steve Drummond of NPR for “36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Injustice at Angola.”

Online: Will Carless, Rob Davis and Andrew Donohue of voiceofsandiego.org for “The Redevelopment Investigation.”

Student (All Media): Kristen Coulter, Brian Hughes, Carolyn Crist, Matthew Grayson and Melissa Weinman of The Red & Black (University of Georgia) for “Sexual Harassment at UGA.”

To see a  full list of winners, finalists and judges’ comments please go to our Web site at www.ire.org/resourcecenter/contest/.