Tom Renner Award
“Dirty Money,” The Record, Thomas Zambito and Jim Haner.
A fresh look at an old subject. With aggressive reporting and straight-ahead writing, these reporters documented the ease with which as much as $2 billion a year in profits from drug dealing and organized crime was being laundered in New Jersey. In exa mple after example, they demonstrated how the state’s lax financial laws made it a haven for money launderers, and how that affects quality of life there. The Record’s series has led to sweeping legal reforms.
Freedom of Information Award
Journalists at seven Indiana newspapers.
When seven Indiana newspapers banded together in a unique and amazingly cooperative effort to test the state’s open records law and the bureaucrat gate-keepers, the project benefited not only Indiana journalists, but all citizens statewide. The journalists surveyed 92 counties, representing themselves as citizens, and asking for five commonly held public records. They found widespread disregard of public records laws and sparked several investigations likely to lead to improvements. Inspired and inspir ational.
“Tomb of The Unknowns,” CBS Evening News, Vince Gonzales, Eric Engberg.
A well told tale from beginning to end, and proof that the TV news magazine format does not have an exclusive franchise on hard-hitting television investigations. Unfolding in short, powerful bursts, the series had enormous impact, making good use of t he FoI Act to force the government to face the truth about how it defaced one of the nation’s most sacred shrines and denied a grieving mother the truth about her son. Told with grace, clarity and impassioned persistence.
Large Newspapers (circulation above 250,000)
“Rezulin: A Billion-Dollar Killer,” The Los Angeles Times, David Willman
Rezulin, a drug for adult-onset diabetes, was considered a “miracle” drug and given fast-track approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration. And it was killing people. By the time David Willman nailed down the story last year, the drug was on its way to reaching $1 billion in sales by Warner-Lambert, and 33 of its consumers were dead. As Willman’s story put it, the Rezulin case “is a window on the new era of accelerated approval for newly proposed medicines.” He reconstructed the FDA approv al process and found compelling evidence of high-pressure lobbying and craven bureaucratic behavior. An FDA scientist who warned of the drug’s potential damage to livers was removed from the review. The government doctor who oversaw the inclusion of Rezul in was a paid consultant to Warner-Lambert. The story was published with no unidentified sources and every salient point on the record and corroborated, a tribute to Willman’s persistent, traditional investigative reporting.
“Population Bomb,” The Wall Street Journal, Alix M. Freedman .
Thorough, complete and readable. The reporting is definitive, declarative, documentary. “Population Bomb” tells how an inexpensive compound called quinacrine has been used to sterilize more than 100,000 women in Third World nations, despite evidence that it may cause cancer. It tells, too, how one of the researchers spreading the chemical to impoverished women has as his agenda the hope of stemming the tide of immigrants to the U.S. Throughout the story, quinacrine’s benefits are laid out as fully as its risks. But this evenhandedness merely underlines the dangers of the sterilization program. Remarkably, Freedman understates the rigors involved in reporting the story, such as being detained by security forces who confiscated her notes in a remote pa rt of Vietnam. The results, swift and decisive, included the decision of the Swiss manufacturer to stop making quinacrine, bans against the procedure in India and Chile and the FDA directing the researchers to stop.
Television Top 20
“Fake Doctors, Real Dangers,” CBS-2 News, Los Angeles, Eleanore M. Vega, Drew C. Griffin, Jeffrey Wilkins, Dolores Lopez, Rob Macey and Les Rose.
This dogged pursuit of fake clinics and illegal pharmacies had a huge impact, but only after tenacious reporters showed how government agencies responsible for regulating health care were unwilling to close the blatantly illegal and dangerous operation s. These pit bull reporters refused to give up despite significant obstacles and apathetic regulators.
Medium Newspapers (circulation 100,000 – 250,000)
“City Court Costs,” The Advocate, of Baton Rouge, DeAnn Smith
This is an outstanding series and a great example of how a beat reporter gets on a story and stays there until it is nailed. Enterprising reporting that strips back several layers to find that city traffic court judges were taking friends and relatives on junkets at taxpayer expense, buying expensive office furnishings and abusing vacation and other fringe benefits. Entertaining, detailed and tenacious watchdog journalism on the kind of story lots of us hear about, but few dig out.
Television Below Top 20
“Olympic Bribery Scandal,” KTVX-TV, Salt Lake City, Chris Vanocur and the KTVX Newsroom
Old-fashioned sourcing helped reporter Chris Vanocur and KTVX-TV obtain a document that lead to the unraveling of a long-running scandal of global proportions. After that, Vanocur hung on for dear life, and rode the wave of coverage that is still washi ng over the International Olympic Committee. Given the passion of local boosters over getting and keeping the Olympic games, this was an especially courageous effort.
Small Newspapers (circulation under 100,000)
“Force In Disarray,” The Courier-Post, Camden, N.J., Clint Riley.
Good, solid reporting detailing serious police problems in New Jersey’s poorest and most violent city. After the mayor and police chief promised a “New York style” comeback for the city’s police department, the reporter and his newspaper admirably we nt out to test the results. What they found was serious mismanagement, lousy staffing, a waste of grant money and bloated overtime budgets. They found a department so poor that thieves openly dared shop-owners to call the cops. The reporter and the newspa per deserve credit for fighting for and obtaining, the detailed payroll records for the police department.
“What Corporate Welfare Costs You,” Time Magazine, Don Barlett and Jim Steele.
Classic Barlett and Steele, and clearly the hands-down winner in this category. America’s best-known investigative reporting team does it again, showing how today’s political climate keeps making the poor poorer and the rich richer. At a time when gove rnment is drastically reducing welfare payments to the poor, Barlett and Steele give us an exhaustively researched, well-written and in-depth picture of the pervasive, multi-billion dollar subsidy program for American corporations.
“A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men,” by David Protess and Rob Warden (Hyperion).
The two Chicago journalists who wrote this book have become specialists at helping free innocent men from prison. In several cases, including this one, Protess and Warden have even documented the identities of the actual perpetrators. This book is comp arable to “All the Presidents Men” in that the journalists are also characters in the compelling narrative.
“Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage,” by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew with Annette Lawrence Drew (Public Affairs Press).
Drew was part of a Chicago Tribune team that started looking into secret, dangerous military maneuvers. Drew, now at The New York Times, teamed with Sontag, who has reported for The Times and the National Law Journal, to expand the Tribune series into something much more comprehensive. They worked the people trail beautifully, getting sources sworn to lifelong secrecy to open up. They used the Freedom of Information Act wisely. The writing is superb.
Local Circulation Weeklies
“Sweet Deals Gone Sour,” Nashville Scene, Willy Stern.
In revealing the outrageous excesses of a nonprofit Nashville hospital and one of its officials, The Scene showed just how powerful, responsible and fearless local weeklies can be. Stern overcame tremendous obstacles, nailed the story and got results. Using classic investigative methods, he reviewed hundreds of pages of arcane and complex documents from land records to construction bids. He published a strong, readable and fearless story despite heavy pressure on the paper from the hospital and persona l pressure on Stern, including surveillance of him by an investigator hired by the hospital. Stern’s advice on his entry form to other journalists is classic: “Dig like a mad dog and don’t give up.”
All the finalists in this category, a new one this year for the IRE Awards, provided excellent examples of strong journalism and no fear of controversial local issues or home town power brokers. It’s just the kind of journalism traditional dailies coul d and should do more of.
“Olympic Scandal,” Howard Berkes, National Public Radio.
The Diamondback, University of Maryland, College Park, David Murray, Daryl Khan, Samiya Edwards, Matt Walcoff and Melissa Corley.
The Diamondback, a feisty and courageous student newspaper at the University of Maryland, took the University on over an important, longstanding open records issue nationwide, spent more than $62,000 in legal fees and won at every turn. The fight, which was carried on through three Diamondback editors, began after a player was suspended by the NCAA for accepting a $2,000 loan from a former coach to help pay campus parking tickets exceeding $8,000. Reporters then asked for access to parking violation records for seven athletes, a coach and others suspected of getting preferential treatment. The university refused, claiming they were educational records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Maryland and other schools have long used the act as a shield to protect themselves from embarrassment. The Diamondback is an aptly named student newspaper that has made an important contribution to all journalists attempting to cover higher education.
“A Family in Crisis,” Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Alison Bologna, Sandy Steinberg, Sarah Ford, Georg Szalai.
While this powerful documentary was not broadcast as required by IRE contest rules, it should have been. Somewhere. It is a well-researched, heart-wrenching piece on how overzealous New York City’s Administration for Children Services became in the wak e of recent criticisms, and how it tore apart a seemingly functional family despite no signs of abuse, maltreatment or neglect. The students’ persistence and thorough reporting stirs a good bit of outrage at bureaucratic excess and, in the aftermath, at t he media itself. Their riveting story about the Ramirez-Torres family showed six children were removed from the home, with some them subsequently poorly cared for by a series of foster parents.