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Announcing the 2020 IRE Award winners

Investigations that revealed corruption leading to poor quality of a state’s nursing homes, peeled back the curtain on the dark side of banking worldwide, and exposed a broken system where law enforcement agencies fail to track criminal officers are among the winners of the 2020 Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards.

“This year’s award winners showed how powerful people and institutions have harmed our most vulnerable populations from nursing home residents in Indiana to palm oil workers in Southeast Asia," said Jennifer LaFleur, an IRE board member and chair of the IRE Awards contest committee. ”All the while, the journalists were dealing with working during a pandemic and economic hardships. Though told across many different platforms, these stories were not only deeply investigated pieces, but beautifully told. Judging IRE’s award entries was the most inspiring thing I have done in the last year.”

This year’s winners were selected from more than 400 entries. The awards, given since 1979, recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 17 categories across media platforms and a range of market sizes.

Note: You must be logged in with your IRE membership to access stories through the resource center

2020 IRE Award Winners:

IRE MEDAL: “Careless,” The Indianapolis Star, Tony Cook, Emily Hopkins, Tim Evans (PRINT/ONLINE DIVISION 3)

IRE MEDAL: “American Rehab,” for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Shoshana Walter, Laura Starecheski, Ike Sriskandarajah, Brett Myers, Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda, Kevin Sullivan, Al Letson, Amy Julia Harris, Katharine Mieszkowski, Najib Aminy, Amy Mostafa, Rosemarie Ho, Matt Thompson, Esther Kaplan, Andy Donohue, Amanda Pike, Narda Zacchino, Gabe Hongsdusit, Sarah Mirk, Claire Mullen, Hannah Young, Byard Duncan, David Rodriguez, Eren K. Wilson (AUDIO - LARGE)

FOI Award: “The Disappeared” and “An Adolescence, Seized,” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Aura Bogado, Melissa Lewis, Victoria Baranetsky, Rachel Brooke, Jenny Casas, Wilson Sayre, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson, Najib Aminy, Amy Mostafa, Andrew Donohue, Esther Kaplan, Mitchell Landsberg, Soo Oh, Nikki Frick, Al Letson, Matt Thompson, Kevin Sullivan, John Barth, Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Tom Renner Award: “FinCEN Files,” BuzzFeed News, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 media partners around the world

Print/Online (written word) Division I: “Fruits of Labor,” The Associated Press,  Margie Mason and Robin McDowell

Print/Online (written word) Division II: “Deceit, Disrepair and Death Inside a Southern California Rental Empire,” KPCC/LAist, Aaron Mendelson 

Print/Online (written word) Division III (MEDAL WINNER): “Careless,” The Indianapolis Star, Tony Cook, Emily Hopkins, Tim Evans

Print/Online (written word) Division IV: “Land-Grab Universities: Expropriated Indigenous Land is the Foundation of the Land-Grant University System,” High Country News, Robert Lee, Tristan Ahtone, Margaret Pearce, Kalen Goodluck, Geoff McGhee, Cody Leff, Katherine Lanpher and Taryn Salinas

Video Division I: “America's Medical Supply Crisis,” FRONTLINE, Associated Press, Global Reporting Centre, Peter Klein (GRC), Christine Brandt (GRC), Juliet Linderman (AP), Martha Mendoza (AP), Kate McCormick, Frank Koughan, Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak (AP), Ron Nixon (AP), Sally Buzbee (AP), Andrew Metz (FRONTLINE), Raney Aronson-Rath (FRONTLINE)

Video Division II: “Full Disclosure,” ABC15 Arizona, Dave Biscobing, Gerard Watson, Lauren Wilson, Shawn Martin and Mark Casey

Video Division III: “Cell Blocked,” WVUE-TV, Lee Zurik, Cody Lillich, Jon Turnipseed, Mike Schaefer, Kristen Palestina

Video Division IV: “Fixing a Flaw for Veterans Lost on the Line,” WGME CBS 13, Jon Chrisos, Jack Amrock and Caulin Morrison

Audio Large (MEDAL WINNER): “American Rehab,” for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Shoshana Walter, Laura Starecheski, Ike Sriskandarajah, Brett Myers, Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda, Kevin Sullivan, Al Letson, Amy Julia Harris, Katharine Mieszkowski, Najib Aminy, Amy Mostafa, Rosemarie Ho, Matt Thompson, Esther Kaplan, Andy Donohue, Amanda Pike, Narda Zacchino, Gabe Hongsdusit, Sarah Mirk, Claire Mullen, Hannah Young, Byard Duncan, David Rodriguez, Eren K. Wilson

Audio small: “Everytown: The Hamptons,”WSHU Public Radio, Charles Lane, Ann Lopez and Max Wasserman

Student Large: “Homeland Secrets,” Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez, Alexandra Edelmann, Joel Farias Godinez, Derek Hall, Nicole Ludden, Maia Ordoñez, Devan Sauer, Mackenzie Shuman, Mike Barnitz and Troy Tauscher

Student Small: “When Colleges Fail On Mental Health,” CUNY Newmark School of Journalism: NY City News Service, Abigail Napp and Harsha Nahata

IRE Award for Sports Investigations: “Sexual misconduct at LSU,” USA TODAY, Kenny Jacoby, Nancy Armour and Jessica Luther

Investigations Triggered by Breaking News: “The Death of George Floyd,” Star Tribune, Libor Jany, Andy Mannix, Jennifer Bjorhus, Jeff Hargarten and Liz Sawyer

Book: “Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic,” by Eric Eyre

Click here for a complete list of winners, finalists, judges and judges’ comments.

The New York Times’ groundbreaking coronavirus tracking project took first place in the 2020 Philip Meyer Journalism Awards. Other top awards go to investigations that uncovered how deeply race and income determine causes of death in Massachusetts and how qualified immunity impacts excessive force cases against police.

“In this difficult year, journalists and news organizations stepped up to fill the void of important information for the public,” said Sarah Cohen, a contest judge and the Knight Chair in Data Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. “In the tradition of Philip Meyer, they created data and analyzed information using social science methods to help the public understand the pandemic, racial justice and other key issues.” 

The 2020 winners are:

First place: Tracking the Coronavirus, The New York Times

By Staff at The New York Times

Judges’ comments: “The New York Times' coronavirus project is a massive data collection undertaking, but it also is much more than that. The Times took on vetting and building out a strict methodology to ensure that data on COVID cases at the county-level, at nursing homes, at universities and in prisons could be used reliably. But The Times also published groundbreaking journalism rooted in social science methods that helped shed light on disparities in the impact from COVID-19. This work truly is a public service for researchers, for public policy efforts, and most importantly, for readers.”

Second place: Last Words, The Boston Globe

By Mark Arsenault, Liz Kowalczyk, Todd Wallack, Rebecca Ostriker, Robert Weisman, Saurabh Datar and Spotlight editor Patricia Wen.

Judges’ comments: “Painstakingly gathering more than 1.2 million death certificates and surveying thousands of families, The Boston Globe showed how deeply race and income determine how and why Massachusetts residents die and how those factors affect the quality and length of life and access to care. The Globe carefully analyzed the death certificate data with methods such as linear and multiple regression and geocoded the residential addresses of the deceased and matched it with Census data to determine income. Along with the data and survey work, the Globe did numerous interviews with epidemiologists, medical experts and family members to produce compassionate and informed stories. Impressively, the Globe team reacted quickly to the pandemic by including investigations into nursing home deaths from Covid-19 and revealing possible discrimination against the poor who apply to nursing homes. The series is a riveting example of how data analysis and social science methods leads to stellar public service journalism.”

Third place: “Shielded,” Reuters

By Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Jackie Botts, Andrea Januta, Guillermo Gomez, and Jaimi Dowdell

Additional reporting by Charlie Szymanski, Lena Masri, and Kanupriya Kapoor

Judges comments: “The Reuters' team reviewed thousands of lawsuits and appellate cases of qualified immunity to show a spike in cases since the Supreme Court's ruling in 2009, and that courts were more willing to take cases defending police officers than plaintiffs who accused officers of excessive force. Using their unique relationship with Westlaw, Reuters showed a plaintiff's likelihood of overcoming qualified immunity depended heavily on where the case was heard. The project used logistic regression and other social science methods, and was published weeks before George Floyd was killed and the Black Lives Matter movement shone a spotlight on the difficulty of prosecuting such cases.” 

Honorable mention: “What Do We Really Know About the Politics of People Behind Bars?” The Marshall Project and Slate

By Staff at The Marshall Project and Slate

Judges’ comments: “The Marshall Project and Slate focused their social science efforts on a population never polled before: the incarcerated. The project was remarkable not only in its mission -- to survey the political leanings of those currently imprisoned -- but also in its reach, gathering more than 8,000 submissions from across the country during one of the most historic elections in U.S. history. As states begin restoring the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people, this project may very well be the first glimpse into the future of our nation's electorate.”  

The Meyer Award recognizes the best uses of empirical methods in journalism. The winners will be honored during the 2021 NICAR 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:

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.

Contact:

It’s time to gather your best stories of the year! The 2020 IRE Awards contest is now open for submissions, and we can’t wait to see what you’ve done.

You’ll notice our new contest submission platform, which we hope will be easy and straightforward to use. The platform, powered by OpenWater, will allow you to start, save and come back to your entries at any point during the open call. You will need to set up a login and password through the platform, but it does not have to be the same information as your IRE membership. 

As with any new system, we might need to tweak some things as we move forward. Please check out the new contest submission platform and email questions to Director of Programming and Resources Lauren Grandestaff at lauren@ire.org or Contest Committee chair Jennifer LaFleur at jlafleur@irworkshop.org.

Eligible entries must have been published or aired between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 12, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.

For details on how to enter, go here. To view past winners, go here.

To volunteer to be a contest pre-screener, fill out this short form.

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