2004 IRE Awards winners
Honoring the best in investigative journalism
The annual IRE Awards recognize outstanding investigative work in several categories. The contest also helps identify the techniques and resources used to complete each story. Entries are placed in the IRE Resource Center, allowing members to learn from each other.
The IRE Awards were established in 1979. Winners from other years can be found on the winners page.
Largest newspapers (more than 500,000) or wire service
- “Death on the Tracks: How Railroads Sidestep Blame,” The New York Times; Walt Bogdanich, Jenny Nordberg, Tom Torok, Eric Koli, Jo Craven McGinty and Claire Hoffman
Judges’ comments: Using a sophisticated computer analysis and good old-fashioned reporting, New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich and his colleagues disclosed the remarkable tale of how railroads have systematically shirked their responsibility to safeguard rail crossings, leading to injury and death on isolated byways across America. Repeatedly, the Times found, motorists were killed at rail crossings that railroads had long known to be dangerous, yet the railroads had often ignored the law requiring them to report fatal accidents to federal authorities, and had neglected their responsibility to correct hazardous conditions. Instead,The Times revealed, some railroads destroyed evidence of fatal accidents, tried to blame mishaps on innocent drivers who had been killed by the railroads’ negligence, and shifted the cost of paying for accidents they caused to American taxpayers. The Times series spurred railroads to take corrective actions and led federal officials to tighten procedures for reporting accidents and signal malfunctions.
- “Captive Clientele,” The New York Times; Diana B. Henriques, Glenn Kramon, Bill McDonald, Sarah Slobin and Antoinette Melillo
- “National Institutes of Health: Public Servant or Private Marketer?,” Los Angeles Times; David Willman and Janet Lundblad
- “Miscount: An Investigative Series,” Scripps Howard News Service; Thomas Hargrove and Michael Collins
- “BALCO steroids case,” San Francisco Chronicle; Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada
Large newspapers (250,000-500,000)
- “Justice Withheld,” The Miami Herald; Manny Garcia, Jason Grotto and Judy Miller
Judges’ coments: A shocking computer-assisted investigation into an unsettling Florida plea-bargaining practice known as “withhold of adjudication of guilt,” where serious crimes – rape, child molestation, spousal abuse – are wiped off the books. Intended originally to give some first-time offenders a break, withholds had been increasingly used in the clogged Florida courts to the point that more than 17,000 cases involved repeat offenders. Thousands of pedophiles, pornographers and sexual predators admitted their crimes but walked out of the courthouse without a conviction, and serious crimes like theft, wife beating, embezzlement and bribery had been essentially decriminalized. The Herald also found that white offenders were more likely to get the reprieve than blacks. Results were swift: Within months, a new law was on the books limiting the withholds a single offender can get and requiring judges and prosecutors to justify using them.
- “Cashing In on Disaster,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Sally Kestin, Megan O’Matz, Luis F. Perez and John Maines
- “The Long Road to Clemency,” The Miami Herald; Debbie Cenziper and Jason Grotto
- “Newsday Circulation Scandal,” Newsday; James T. Madore, Steve Wick, Tom McGinty, Mark Harrington and Robert Kessler
Medium newspapers (100,000-250,000)
- “DWI: Sobering Acquittals; DWI Dismissals,” The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer; Ames Alexander, Ted Mellnik, Gary Wright, Liz Chandler, Lisa Hammersly Munn, Binyamin Appelbaum and Henry Eichel
Judges’ comments: Driving while legally drunk, even falling down drunk, was not resulting in convictions for people whose cases went before North Carolina judges who ignored the law, acquitting up to 60 percent of defendants. Sometimes police who made arrests were never even told when to appear in court, allowing defendants to walk free. Using databases from the courts and state records of alcohol tests, and aided by superb graphics, the reporters and the database editor painted a damning portrait of a broken judicial system and the price paid by those maimed or killed by drunk drivers who repeatedly had been let off. The most lenient judge no longer hears drunken driving cases, the state’s chief justice has ordered all judges to follow the law, and the state promises more reforms.
- “Beating the Rap,” The Des Moines Register; Clark Kauffman
- “The Bridge,” The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer; Joseph Neff, Jay Price and Charles Crain
- “Students Take Housing From The Poor,” The Des Moines Register; Lee Rood
- “Unequal Force,” Austin American-Statesman; Andy Alford, Tony Plohetski, Erik Rodriguez, Jonathan Osborne and Claire Osborn
Small newspapers (under 100,000)
- “Web of Deceit,” Charleston (W.V.) Gazette; Eric Eyre
Judges’ comments: Eric Eyre relentlessly laid bare the misdeeds of a powerful state legislator who held two public jobs but did little work for one of them, diverted school money to fire departments, and broke promises not to use his influence unfairly. Then the state Ethics Commission cleared the lawmaker after he produced letters apparently disproving Eyre’s work – until Eyre showed that the “too good to be true” letters were dated before the stationery was created. Voters ousted the politician, he and his wife were convicted of altering official documents and the speaker of the West Virginia House apologized to the Gazette for not believing the initial stories.
- “Insider Trading in City Hall,” Erie, Pa., Times-News; Kevin Flowers and Peter Panepento
Judges’ comments: A tip about the sale of an Erie rental home uncovered a secret scheme by associates of the city’s mayor to profit off redevelopment of an old industrial site. Reporters Kevin Flowers and Peter Panepento connected well-hidden dots in such clear and powerful language and graphics that state and federal officials paid attention and a grand jury indicted the mayor.
- “Unnatural Disasters,” The San Bernardino (Calif.) Sun; George Watson, Guy McCarthy, Jim Mohr, Ben Schnayerson and Andrew Silva
- “Attack at the Silk Plant Forest,” Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal; Phoebe Zerwick
- System Failure, The (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) Island Packet, Jessica Flathmann, Fitz McAden, E.J. Schultz and Noah Haglund
Local Circulation Weeklies
- “The 30-Year Secret; Who Knew,” Willamette Week (Portland, Ore.); Nigel Jaquiss
Judges’ comments: Nigel Jaquiss broke a blockbuster story that had been whispered about for years in Oregon. Former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, one of the state’s most powerful men, had forced a 14-year-old babysitter into a three-year sexual relationship when he was a 35-year-old Portland mayor. “The 30-year Secret” detailed the relationship’s impact on the troubled woman and to what lengths Goldschmidt went to hide it over the years. When Goldschmidt learned about the weekly’s story, he resigned from two major boards and public life even before the story ran.
- “Sick District,” New Times Broward-Palm Beach; Bob Norman
- “A Pattern of Suspicion,” Dateline, NBC News; John Larson, Jason Samuels, Andrew Lehren, Melanie Jackson, Shayla Harris, Ben Vient, Grace Jean, Gary Simmons, Neal Shapiro, David Corvo, Marc Rosenwasser and Aretha Marshall
Judges’ comments: For this compelling and ambitious examination into racial profiling across the country, Dateline analyzed data from more than four million traffic stops in a dozen cities. It found that in almost every city, blacks were at least twice as likely as whites to be stopped or ticketed for non-moving violations. In a thorough and even-handed investigation, the network put into focus the subtle ways that police target non-white “suspects.”
- “Fighting for Care,” Primetime Thursday, ABC News; Diane Sawyer, Robbie Gordon, Ira Rosen and Robert Lange
- “Abuse at Abu Ghraib,” 60 Minutes II, CBS News; Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, Dana Roberson, Mary Alfieri, Jeff Fager, Patti Hassler and Mike Whitney
- “Dominican Gold Rush,” ESPN; Tom Farrey, Dan Arruda, Ronnie Forchheimer, Vince Doria and John Marvel
- “The Secret History of the Credit Card,” Frontline/New York Times Television; Lowell Bergman, Patrick McGeehan, Robin Stein, Marlena Telvick, Remy Weber, Michael Schreiber, Michael Sullivan, Louis Wiley Jr., David Fanning, Lawrie Mifflin and Ann Derry
Top 20 markets
- “Expressway Investigation,” WFTS-Tampa, Fla.; Mike Mason, Aaron Wische, Matt McGlashen and Randy Wright
Judges’ comments: This is a prime example of dogged investigative reporting at its shoe-leather best. Starting with a tip from a construction worker , WFTS’s investigative team FOI’ed thousands of engineering reports, board minutes and inspection documents to uncover shoddy construction methods that threatened the structural integrity of the $350 million highway under construction, including the collapse of one of the elevated segments. Mike Mason and his team unearthed construction mistakes, inadequate ground testing, a lack of oversight, bogus repairs and the fact that the project’s executive director was using the title of “professional engineer” years after his engineering license had expired. Thanks in part to the myriad of problems unearthed by the investigative team, the project was halted, the executive director resigned, and the state began stepping in to take control of a troubled project
- “The Un-Americans,” WFAA-Dallas; Brett Shipp, Mark Smith and Kraig Kirchem
- “Changing of the Guards,” WLS-Chicago; Chuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, John Silvey, Steve Erwin, Jackie Denn, Jim Mastri, Rich Hillengas and Susan Mitchell
- “Senseless Suffering,” KMGH-Denver; John Ferrugia, Kurt Silver, Jason Foster and Jeff Harris
- “CPD Death Squad/School Bus Bloat,” WJW-Cleveland; Tom Merriman, Greg Easterly, Mark DeMarino, Dave Hollis, Matt Rafferty and Chuck Rigdon
Below top 20 markets
- “Racial Profiling Problems,” WOAI-San Antonio; Brian Collister, Holly Whisenhunt Stephen and Steve Kline
Judges’ comments: This investigative report deconstructed a city study that purported to show there was no racial profiling in San Antonio. WOAI exposed that the $54,000 study was useless; race information had been incorrectly marked by police on 26 percent of the tickets, and the database used to create the report was full of errors. The story uses examples that are both hilarious and disturbing.
- “High-Dollar Highways,” WTVF-Nashville; Phil Williams and Bryan Staples
- “Lead Jewelry,” WMAR-Baltimore; Tisha Thompson and Bill Fink
- “Mission Impossible,” U.S. News & World Report; David E. Kaplan, Kevin Whitelaw and Monica M. Ekman
- “Series about flawed prewar intelligence in Iraq,” Newsweek; Mark Hosenball, Michael Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Michael Hirsh, John Barry, Rod Nordland, Melinda Liu, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Christopher Dickey
- “The Baghdad Files,” U.S. News & World Report; Edward Pound
- “America’s border: Who left the door open?” Time; Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
- “Wall Street’s Dumping Ground” and “Bank Funds Draining Investors,” Bloomberg Markets; David Dietz and Adam Levy
- “Abuse of Immigrant Detainees,” National Public Radio; Daniel Zwerdling, Anne Hawke, Ellen Weiss and Bill Marimow
Judges’ comments: NPR put a compelling human face on the Department of Homeland Security’s roundup of more than 200,000 aliens last year. It investigated what happened to immigrants detained at two jails in New Jersey, telling in horrific detail how guards attacked hapless prisoners with dogs and beat the jailed immigrants if they dared to complain. The NPR series resulted in major changes, including a department order to all jails to stop using dogs around prisoners.
- “Faint Warning,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Susanne Reber, David McKie, Pauline Dakin, Bob Carty, Sandra Bartlett, Mike Gordon and Paddy Moore
- “Outsourcing the Pentagon,” The Center for Public Integrity; Elizabeth Brown, M. Asif Ismail, Alex Knott, Dan Guttman and Larry Makinson
Judges’ comments: An exhaustive study of more than 2.2 million Pentagon contract actions over the past six years. The CPI team discovered that more than 40 percent of Pentagon contracting money, about $362 billion, was awarded on no-bid contracts, and that nine of the Pentagon’s top 10 contractors got the majority of their money without competitive bidding. CPI built an online database that allows the public to see how hundreds of Pentagon vendors got their contracts and how much money they spent on campaign contributions to key politicians.
- “Power Trips,” American Radio Works, Marketplace, Medill School of Journalism; Steve Henn, Ochen Kaylan, Chris Farrell, Nate DiMeo and Stephen Smith
- “Machine Politics,” Wired; Kim Zetter
- “The Politics of Oil,” The Center for Public Integrity; Bob Williams, Kevin Bogardus, Laura Peterson, Paul Radu, Daniel Lathrop, Teo Furtado and Aron Pilhofer
- “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill,” Simon & Schuster; Ron Suskind
Judges’ comments: A compelling, insider account of George W. Bush’s White House. Suskind teamed up with former Treasury Secretary O’Neill to give an unflinching look at how policy and politics intersected in the administration’s first two years. The book reads like a novel, but its meticulous reporting gives exclusive insight into such critical subjects as the march to war in Iraq.
- “American Taboo: A murder in the Peace Corps,” HarperCollins; Philip Weiss
- “Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business & Bad Medicine,” Doubleday Books; Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Tom Renner Award
- “Clout on Wheels: The scandal of Chicago’s Hired Truck Program,” Chicago Sun-Times; Tim Novak and Steve Warmbir
Judges’ comments: Reporter Tim Novak’s curiosity about a sign on the side of a dump truck, identifying it as leased to the City of Chicago, started his investigation with reporter Steve Warmbir into how Chicago spends $40 million a year to hire dump trucks that mostly just sit at work sites. The money went to 15 firms owned by mobsters or their families, as well as to politically connected people, who in turn gave at least $840,000 in campaign donations to the mayor and other politicians since 1996. A riveting series showing how organized crime still drains the pockets of taxpayers.
- “Crisis in the Courts,” Portland (Maine) Press Herald; Barbara Walsh
- “Cries for Help,” WTHR-Indianapolis; Angie Moreschi, Bill Ditton and Gerry Lanosga
Judges’ comments: WTHR’s investigation into problems with Indiana’s child welfare system led to a new law opening child abuse reports and child neglect reports after a child dies. Instead of resting on its laurels, the WTHR team then tested the new law, leading to yet more important disclosures. Along the way, when a state agency failed to obey the new disclosure laws that WTHR’s reporting had spawned, the station went to court and forced compliance. The relentless reporting forced substantive changes at the agency.
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- “U of L Foundation,” The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal; Mark Pitsch
- “Secret No More,” The Bakersfield Californian; Charles Adamson and Bob Christie
- “Revolving door for fired workers,” The Palm Beach Post; Kathleen Chapman and William M. Hartnett
Student Work (All Media)
- “A Death in the Desert,” Frontline/World; Claudine LoMonaco and Mary Spicuzza
Judges’ comments: University of California, Berkeley journalism students Claudine LoMonaco and Mary Spicuzza reported and produced a moving, well-written and beautifully photographed story profiling the death of Matias Garcia, one of thousands of migrant workers who have died in the Arizona desert trying to cross the border to work. The reporters tell a story of immigration policy through the eyes of a family we care about. The contest committee was so impressed by the network quality of the work they called to verify it actually was done by students.
View a clip from the story
- “Public Business Hidden in TAF’s Shadow,” The Reveille, Louisiana State University; Lauren Wilbert and Rebecca Markway
- “Players accuse coach of abuse,” GW Hatchet, George Washington University; Brian Costa
Special Citation for an International Entry
- “Children Trapped in Poverty,” Joongang Ilbo, South Korea; Kyu-youn Lee, Kichan Kim, Jungha Kim and Min-ho Son
Judges’ comments: The Joongang Ilbo newspaper of Seoul used computer analysis and on-the-spot reporting for a four-day series exploring the plight of children living in abject poverty in Korea. Their work, which included interviews with hundreds of sources, was so well-documented and compelling that more than 100 civic and welfare groups allied to address the problems, and the Korean government quickly launched a comprehensive plan that includes paying for the cost of child care for needy families and the construction of more than 500 child welfare centers across the country.
- “Power Trips,” American Radio Works, Marketplace, Medill School of Journalism; Steve Henn, Ochen Kaylan, Chris Farrell, Nate Dimeo and Stephen Smith
Judges comments: A team that included students from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Medill professors, and professional journalists from American Public Media organized a comprehensive analysis of the 4,851 trips taken by members of Congress – and funded by private interests – over the past four years. Digging into the paper records buried in congressional offices, the team spent hundreds of hours building their own database of the nearly $14.4 million spent by corporations and special interest groups to send legislators around the world. The “Power Trips” story was told across several media, with newspaper and radio stories and an online site that included a searchable database allowing constituents to check the trips of their senators and congressional representatives.