The Renner Award

“All in the Family” and “Mousetrap” by NBC News Dateline
Lea Thompson, Marsha Bartel, Sandra Thomas Surles, Sarah Hodder, Eric Vanderbellen, Seth Karten, Michelle De Long, Therese Hoesli, Marc Rosenwasser, and Neal Shapiro

The stories involved a major examination of a secretive group called the Irish Travelers, based in South Carolina. Many members of the group engage in organized crime ranging from swindling elderly people to an attempted multimillion dollar scam at Disney World. Dateline got two insiders to reveal what goes on inside the community.

Judges’ comments: 
“In the spirit of Tom Renner, it is appropriate to give Dateline this award. At first glance, it is hard to believe that the Irish Travelers are involved in organized crime. But Dateline expertly showed their wide-ranging web of victims, and it is clear by the end of the piece that the Irish Travelers are a textbook definition of organized crime.”

IRE Medal Winners

And Justice for Some by the Los Angeles Times 
Fredric N. Tulsky, Ted Rohrlich, Rich Connell, Victor Merina, John Johnson, Dan Weikel, Patrick Downs, Richard O’Reilly, and Tim Reiterman

“And Justice for Some” was an exhaustive look at five years worth of homicides in Los Angeles County that showed conclusively that only one in three killings there leads to any punishment. The series, which took nearly two years to report, write and edit, examined the external factors – race, class and publicity – that help explain why murder cases turn out the way they do. More importantly, the series showed how innocent people are wrongly arrested and charged with murder because of shoddy police work.

Judges’ comments: “A surprisingly original take on a classic local story. The series demonstrated a wide and rich range of reporting techniques and analysis. The reporters showed incredible imagination and determined research on what is arguably the most important social issue of this decade. In a city that has been dominated by discussion of the O.J. Simpson case, this series shows where the real criminal justice problems lie.”

Money from Asia: The Democrats’ Controversial Campaign Contributions by the Los Angeles Times 
Alan C. Miller, Glenn F. Bunting, Rich Connell, David Willman, Sara Fritz, Richard T. Cooper, K. Connie Kang, Jim Mann, David Rosenzweig, Teresa Watanabe, Maura Dolan, and Jonathan Peterson

“Money from Asia” was undoubtedly the most significant and important news story of the year. The Los Angeles Times reporters were the first to document how the Clinton administration and the Democratic National Committee raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper contributions from foreign sources. In a classic series of investigative stories the reporters vividly detailed the John Huang connection, the Lippo group connection and scores of other questionable financial relationships.

Judges’ comments: “This was not just a simple political corruption story. ‘Money from Asia’ was a deep look at the financial forces behind the 1996 presidential election. The reporters pursued the sources of the contributions in an exemplary, dogged effort of the most significant story of the year. It was classic investigative reporting with political and historical significance.”

Toy Story Part I and Part II by NBC News Dateline
Grace Kahng, Stone Phillips, and Christian Martin

A fantastic piece on the exploitation of child workers in Southeast Asia. Using hidden cameras and some deception, Stone Phillips infiltrated the toy factories and textile mills in Indonesia and China and showed how many of the children were being exploited so that American companies could sell Barbies and Disney products at an incredible markup.

Judges’ comments: “Dateline took a story we’re familiar with and took it further than it has ever been taken before. They actually advanced the sweatshop story. Getting into the Chinese labor camps was an incredible accomplishment. It illustrated the race for the bottom line that many American companies are competing for. In a year when hidden cameras have come under fire because of the Food Lion case, Dateline’s piece makes the very best case for their use. Without them, the world could not have seen the abject conditions inside the labor camps. The highlight of the piece was showing the utter hypocrisy of the president of the Toy Manufacturers Association, whose own business violated the very ethics he espoused.”

Network/Syndicated Television

Door-to-Door Insurance by Inside Edition
Matt Meagher, Tim Peek, Miguel Sancho, Richard Cherkis, Bob Read, Sheila Sitomer, and Charles Lachman

The piece revealed how United Insurance, which sells low-value life and fire insurance door-to-door, exploits the poor and minorities. In a hidden-camera expose, a producer was trained by a United Insurance salesman in Little Rock. He captured on camera how defrauding the poor was a way of life. To add insult to injury, the same salesman then engaged in a stream of racial slurs about those very clients. The piece documented fraud and theft, forgery and misrepresentation by agents for the company and showed how some people ended up paying $3,000 for a life insurance policy worth $500.

Judges’ comments: “Watching the salesman using a coat hanger to take money out of a young child’s piggy bank epitomizes the power of this story. It is a terrific piece of TV journalism that helps justify the use of hidden cameras. It’s about preying on the poor and the elderly, the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Newspapers – Circulation More Than 250,000

No other awards given.

Television – Top 20 Market

No awards given.

Newspapers – Circulation Between 100,000 and 250,000

Safety at Issue: the 737 by the Seattle Times 
Byron Acohido 

This is a classic investigative series by a beat reporter who has the expertise to clearly explain a complicated issue. Despite no cooperation by Boeing, the Seattle Times aerospace reporter documented the problems with the 737’s rudder that likely caused fatal crashes in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Within a day of the series, Boeing acknowledged problems with the rudder. It is tough to be critical of a company in a company town, but Acohido pulled it off with fair and balanced dispatches.

Judges’ comments: 
“Incredible technical depth, head and shoulders above the competition. Excellent writing. The reporter confronted a Boeing stonewall and succeeded. It makes you want to cringe every time you board a 737. The sheer breadth of the reporting combined with great story telling and immediate results made this a winner. The reporter had clear expertise and used it to raise relevant and important questions. Makes what could have been dry and technical into an interesting and urgent piece.”

Television – Below Top 20 Market

Airport Security: Behind the Scenes by WCPO-TV, Cincinnati
Laure Quinlivan, Jeff Keene, Ken Fulk, Jim Zarchin, and Stuart Zanger

The investigation uncovered major lapses in security at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport. Specifically, the reporter showed that Intex Aviation, a major Delta subcontractor, performed inadequate background checks and did little if any screening for people who had access to the airport through its office. The investigation, which occurred months before the TWA 800 flight explosion, showed how easy it would be for someone to sabotage an airplane.

Judges’ comments: 
“This was original reporting and it was original before there was a tragedy to focus the issue. The station used undercover cameras in the way they should be used to the test the system. It was a responsible use of undercover techniques to inform the public about major safety lapses at the airport. This story was reported with a balanced, understated tone as opposed to the sensational, attention-grabbing techniques that are too often used for stories of this magnitude. The story reported an important issue with commendable enterprise.”

Newspapers – Circulation Below 100,000

Housing Aid Abused by The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La. 
Greg Garland

A sensational story that documented the widespread abuse of a major Department of Housing and Urban Development program. This program, which allows the homeless to pay $1 a year to lease government-repossessed houses, was abused by a politically well-connected local woman who ran a nonprofit homeless agency and used the program to reward her friends, relatives and others who earned substantial salaries.

Judges’ comments: 
“This is a classic investigative story that really nails it. Both HUD and the local official did everything possible to block access to the information. The reporter overcame major obstacles in seeking to detail major abuse and corruption in a federal homeless program at the expense of the poor. This showed great reporting by a small newspaper that had strong editorial support for the endeavor.”

Radio

Mustard Gas Series by CBC Radio News, Canada
Fred Vallance-Jones and George Stephenson

The five-day series documented how more than 1,000 Canadian servicemen were used as human guinea pigs for mustard gas experiments during World War II. The reporter made extensive use of Canada’s Access to Information Act to show what happened to the veterans and the failure of the Canadian government to properly compensate the victims through better pension benefits.

Judges’ comments: 
“The combination of documentation and human sources is fabulous. It was an incredibly well told story about a grave injustice. The reporting is seamless and full of humanity. It is a story about teenagers going off to war and being abused by their government. To find each of these people 50 years after the fact is a significant reporting accomplishment.”

Books

No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court by Simon & Schuster 
Edward Humes

The author got a court order and spent one year inside the Los Angeles juvenile court system and what he saw was a heartbreaking tale of justice for the youngest members of society.

Judges comments: 
“Writing about juvenile justice is extremely difficult, especially in a system like Los Angeles. Winning the trust of everyone in the juvenile justice system and telling the story of their lives and the system from the inside out was a mammoth task. This was investigative story telling at its best that revealed the day-to-day nature of the system. This is also social reform journalism in the muckraking tradition of Upton Sinclair.”

Magazine

The Lethal Dangers of the Billion-Dollar Vaccine Business by Money Magazine
Andrea Rock and Roberta Kirwan

The story documented how the business to give children immunizations has grown with alarming side-effects. Hundreds of healthy children have gotten seriously ill or died as a result of their vaccines. More importantly, the story revealed that many of those problems could be avoided if the medical and insurance industries were willing to use other available vaccines that happen to be more expensive.

Judges’ comments: 
“Compelling and relevant to everyone even if you do not have kids. The story of the woman getting polio from changing a diaper is incredible. The story documented how profits were placed ahead of vaccine safety. The presentation was nicely done. The story built as it went along. It is incredible stuff that safer vaccines have been available, but their higher costs have prevented their dissemination.”

Student Print

Rethinking Malone by the Daily Nebraskan
Matthew Waite

The story, which began as a class project, examined a town that has a reputation for being poor, crime-filled and minority dominated. This was a computer-assisted reporting project, and Waite analyzed census data, crime records and mortgage information to show that the neighborhood was in fact low in crime and was majority white.

Judges’ comments:

“The reporter showed tremendous creativity and initiative. The writing on the story was excellent, particularly for a student publication. Well written and researched, the story documented the misperceptions about Malone. It was an originally conceived story that was executed over a ninth-month period.”

Student Broadcast

Overcrowding and Inhumane Treatment in Missouri County Jails by KOMU-TV, Columbia, Mo.
Ara Ayer

The television series – produced at the Missouri School of Journalism – showed how a majority of Missouri county jails are antiquated and inadequate. The reporter doggedly obtained access to some of Missouri’s worst jails and vividly showed how the old jails have harmed the prisoners as well as sheriff officers and prison guards.

Judges’ comments: 
“Impressive presentation by a beginning journalist. The report had depth and balance and combined important statistical information with a visceral demonstration of the problem. Jail overcrowding is an important issue and the reporter produced a compelling story and an inside look at the problem.”

Student Category – Special Citation/Commendation

Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu by Northwestern University Press

Laura Sullivan, Stacey Delo, and Stephanie Goldstein

Northwestern University student project led by David Protess that uncovered new information and led to the freeing of four men charged in a 1978 murder in Chicago. Two of the men were on death row.