2006 IRE Awards winners
The highest honor IRE can bestow for investigative reporting is the IRE Medal. This year’s medal winner is:
- Nuestra Familia, Our Family — Center for Investigative Reporting; Oriana Zill de Granados, Julia Reynolds, George Sanchez (Tom Renner Award winner.) (read judges’ comments)
- Beyond Sago: Coal Mine Safety in America — Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette; Ken Ward, Jr. (Small Newspaper Award winner) (read judges’ comments)
- The Looming Tower — Lawrence Wright (Book Award winner) (read judges’ comments)
- Secret Political Piggy Bank — Times Union of Albany, N.Y.; James Odato, Michele Morgan Bolton, Fred LeBrun, Brendan Lyons, Elizabeth Benjamin, Carol DeMare, J. Robert Port, Rex Smith, Jim McGrath, Howard Healy, John de Rosier (FOI Award winner)(read judges’ comments)
- Farmsubsidy.org — Nils Mulvad, Brigitte Alfter, Jack Thurston (FOI Award Winner) (read judges’ comments)
Large newspapers (250,000-500,000) — IRE Certificate
Medium newspapers (100,000-250,000) — IRE Certificate
Magazine/Specialty Publications — IRE Certificate
Student Work (All Media) — IRE Certificate
Complete list of 2006 IRE Award Winners and Finalists
Largest newspapers (more than 500,000) or wire service
A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble — Chicago Tribune ; Paul Salopek, Kuni Takahashi, Brenda Kilianski
Judges’ comments: In order to understand the full impact of America’s addiction to oil, reporter Paul Salopek set out to do what had never been done before: tracking a single tank of gasoline from a Chicago pump back to its origins in Nigeria, Venezuela and Iraq. He was able to do so by obtaining secret oil-industry documents called “crude slates,” documents that took him around the world and provided a foundation for this novel investigation. Compelling and at times chilling, this investigation forces each driver to look not only at the financial and environmental tolls of filling the tank, but at the human costs as well.
- Harvesting Cash — The Washington Post; Dan Morgan, Gilbert M. Gaul, Sarah Cohen
- Guantanamo Detainees — Associated Press; Andrew O. Selsky
- Broken Bench — The New York Times ; William Glaberson
Largest newspapers (250,000-500,000)
On Shaky Ground &mdash The (Baltimore) Sun Fred Schulte, June Arney
Judges’ comments: When a family of Vietnamese immigrants lost their home over a small unpaid debt related to obscure, colonial-era law, reporters at The Sun began to investigate. Soon, they uncovered lawyers and ruthless landlords who were systematically acquiring so-called “ground rent” rights and using small debts to force hundreds of people out of their homes all over their city. In all, reporters analyzed nearly 4,000 cases filed during 2000-2006. They found outraged judges whose hands were tied as they watched how ground-rent owners — who own only the land under the homes and are typically owed only nominal fees — targeted elderly and deceased homeowners to acquire real estate for a song. This investigation led to significant reform, undoubtedly saving the homes of many Baltimore residents.
- Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight — The Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Matthew Kauffman, LIsa Chedekel
- Hidden Dockets/Secret Cases —Miami Herald; Patrick Danner, Dan Christensen
- Abandoning Our Mentally Ill — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Meg Kissinger
- Dangerous Remedy —The (Baltimore) Sun; Robert Little
Medium newspapers (100,000-250,000)
Lessons in Waste — The (Hackensack, N.J.) Record; Jean Rimbach, Kathleen Carroll
Judges’ comments: In the effort to better prepare low-income, inner-city children for school, the state of New Jersey undertook the most ambitious and expensive preschool program in America, funneling $2.5 billion into preschool programs. But The Record discovered that millions of dollars never reached the classrooms and kids, going instead to greedy middlemen: preschool owners who spent the money on luxury cars, cruises, hotels, gambling and shopping sprees. Building a database from thousands of documents, the newspaper found a system rife with problems and lacking any significant oversight. Since publication the state has scrambled to clean up the program, and three preschool operators have been indicted.
- N.Y. Power Authority — The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard; Michelle Briedenbach
- North Carolina Water: Safe to drink? — The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer ; Pat Stith, Catherine Clabby, David Raynor, Michael Biesecker
- Corruption in Community College System — The Birmingham (Ala.) News; Brett J. Blackledge
Small newspapers (under 100,000)
Beyond Sago: Coal Mining Safety in America — Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette; Ken Ward Jr.
Judges’ comments: After years of covering the coal industry, reporter Ken Ward, Jr., offers readers an unparalleled portrait of the dangers inside the mines and the breakdowns of federal and state regulation that made 2006 the industry’s deadliest year in more than a decade. Using documents and data analysis, he detailed lax safety procedures, inferior training, poor equipment maintenance and other problems that contributed to deaths at Sago and other mines. Ward’s work illustrated the importance of mastering a subject through dogged beat reporting and ultimately sharing that deep knowledge with readers. His work also shows that small newspapers can change the shape and course of national debate on an issue of paramount importance.
- Lethal Lapses —Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat; George Pawlaczyk, Beth Hundsdorfer
- UM Space Programs — (University of Montana) Missoulian of Missoula, Mont.; Betsy Cohen, Jennifer McKee
- Investigating Five Rivers — The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News; David Wren
Local Circulation Weeklies
Run Over by Metro — Houston Press ; Todd Spivak
Judges’ comments: Todd Spivak’s four-month investigation into the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Houston looked at fatalities and serious injuries caused by the public bus system. It found that the agency rejected the safety recommendations of its own investigators, hounded victims to settle accidents and misrepresented its accident statistics. The compelling and vivid narrative writing gives extraordinary power to the victims’ stories and fuels the outrage over the agency’s misconduct.
- Cracked Houses — Phoenix New Times; Sarah Fenske
- Navahoax —LA Weekly; Matthew Fleischer
- The Wexford Files — Santa Fe Reporter; Dan Frosch
Judges’ comments: In an investigation that took its journalists and cameras across the globe, Dateline NBC documented how counterfeit prescription drugs are invading America’s mainstream medicine supply. Going undercover, correspondent Chris Hansen exposed a Chinese crime ring negotiating to sell millions of dollars’ worth of fake pills. The bogus pills were such good counterfeits that even experts had a hard time telling the difference.. Within days of the broadcast, the Federal Food and Drug Administration announced new rules to track pills from the factory to the pharmacy, rules on which it had dragged its feet for 18 years.
- Trophy — NBC News; , Lisa Myers, Adam Ciralsky, Rich Gardella, Doug Adams, Jim Popkin, Albert Oetgen, John Reiss (see a clip from the story)
- Searching for Jacob — CBS 60 Minutes; Scott Pelley, Shawn Efran, Rebecca Peterson, Andy Soto (see a clip from the story)
- The Mother of All Heists — CBS 60 Minutes; Steve Kroft, Andy Court , Keith Sharman, Daniel J. Clucksman, Amjad Tadros, Tadd Lascari, Jonathan Schienberg, Patti Hassler, Jeff Fager (see a clip from the story)
- No Fly List — CBS 60 Minutes; Steve Kroft, Ira Rosen, Jennifer MacDonald, Matthew Lev, Tadd Lascari (see a clip from the story)
Top 20 markets
Judge’s comments: This riveting investigation revealed an illegal scheme that exploited the hopes and fears of unsuspecting immigrants. The operation, run by a South Florida man, purported to sell citizenship in the Pembina Little Shell Band Indian Tribe of North Dakota. Victims were told they would have the right to work legally in the United States if they paid $1,500. It was a sham, of course. The WTVJ investigation shut down the bogus operation and led to federal and state investigations.
- Taxicab Deception — KNBC-Los Angeles; Joel Grover, Matt Goldberg (see a clip from the story)
- Hiding Homicides — WBBM-Chicago ; Pam Zekman, Simone Thiessen (see a clip from the story)
- Patients in Danger: The Caremark Investigation — KHOU-Houston; Jeremy Rogalski, David Raziq, Chris Henao, Keith Tomshe (see a clip from the story)
Below top 20 markets
Judges’ comments: Tornadoes are a fact of life in Central Indiana, and tornado sirens provide warnings that can save lives. So it was shocking to learn what WTHR journalists discovered: County officials in the Indianapolis area didn’t know how many sirens they had, where the sirens were located or whether the sirens worked. Using a hand-held GPS and shoe leather, the station tracked down and mapped more than 300 sirens. They documented that hundreds of square miles of land were left unprotected and that many of the antiquated sirens had not worked for years.
- The Ticket Fix — WTVF-Nashville; Phil Williams, Bryan Staples (see a clip from the story)
- 911 State of Emergency – WISH-Indianapolis; Rick Dawson, Loni Smith McKown, Bill Fisher (see a clip from the story)
- Captive Victims — KMOV-St. Louis; Steve Chamraz, Steve Perron, Steve Harris (see a clip from the story)
- Sham Dunk — WKRC-Cincinnati; Jeff Hirsh, Eric Gerhardt, Dan Hurley (see a clip from the story)
Broken Promises — Bloomberg Markets; William Selway, Martin Z. Braun and David Dietz.
Judge’s comments: In an ambitious, difficult and ultimately fruitful investigation, Bloomberg’s reporters discovered that Wall Street had created a $7 billion municipal bond program that allowed banks and advisors to profit while the public entities they were supposed to be funding got nothing. Municipal bonds are considered dull and complicated by most writers, but this investigation of “black box” deals brings to life abuses that robbed cities and towns of their dreams for better schools and housing. It is a well-sourced project that makes a technically complex industry understandable.
- The Secret World of Modern Slavery — Bloomberg Markets Magazine; Michael Smith, David Voreacos
- Nobody’s Hero — 5280 Denver Magazine; Maximillian Potter
- Dumping Grounds/Just Moving On — The Chicago Reporter; Casey Sanchez
Mental Anguish and the Military — National Public Radio; Daniel Zwerdling, Anne Hawke and Ellen Weiss
Judges’ comments: The NPR team delivered a powerful assessment of the mental health toll of the war in Iraq, documenting in heartbreaking fashion the internal battle some soldiers fight after they return home from war and the frustration they face in dealing with the military health system. The journalists compared written policies to actual practices at the Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado, discovering neglect and even punishment of some soldiers who dared speak up about depression. After the stories aired, Senate leaders demanded a Pentagon investigation into the soldiers’ allegations.
- Dying for a Job — Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Susanne Reber, David McKie, Bob Murphy, Alison Myers, Jack Julian, Frank Koller, Phil Harbord, Tyana Grundig, Bilbo Poynter, Dick Miller
- Power Trips — American Radio Works/American Public Media; Stephen Henn, William Kistner, Chris Farrell, Margaret Koval, Karen Lowe, Stephen Smith, Bill Buzenberg, J.J. Yore
The Mark Foley Investigation — ABCNews.com; Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, Maddy Sauer, Simon Surowicz, Krista Kjellman, Steve Alperin, Michael Clemente and Christopher Isham
Judges’ comments: Acting on information that other mainstream news organizations downplayed or ignored, ABCNews.com broke the first stories of Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate behavior with congressional pages and relentlessly drove the coverage as it widened into a full-blown congressional scandal. In doing so, these journalists demonstrated the power and speed of the Internet as a tool for reporting and disseminating national news. As new angles developed, ABC expanded on its website exclusives with nightly broadcast reports, a synergistic alliance that set a model for other media outlets.
- Power Trips — The Center for Public Integrity; Jim Morris, Helena Bengtsson, Daniel Lathrop, Robert Brodsky, Marina Walker Guevara, Alex Knott, Anupama Narayanswamy, Kevin Bogardus
- Conflicts on the Bench — Center for Investigative Reporting; Will Evans
The Looming Tower — Lawrence Wright
Judges’ comments: This book is a tour de force of investigative reporting, so skillfully crafted that it reads more like a page-turning crime novel than the exquisitely documented journalistic study it is. Wright explains the genesis and development of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East, and takes us through the transformation of an eccentric, sickly millionaire, Osama bin Laden, into the fanatical, cave-dwelling leader of a highly organized international terrorist organization. Drawn from five years of research, including hundreds of interviews (many conducted in Arabic) and thousands of documents, Wright brings new light and understanding to the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks. The spellbinding narrative provides intimate details of the lives of bin Laden and his top deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawihiri, and tells how Al-Qaeda developed from a disorganized group of rebels in the Afghan desert into a multinational group capable of taking down the World Trade Center. He also exposes shocking communication failures between the FBI and the CIA that left America exposed to the attacks.
Tom Renner Award
Nuestra Familia,Our Family — Center for Investigative Reporting; Oriana Zill de Granados, Julia Reynolds and George Sanchez.
Judges’ comments: This stunning documentary provides an unprecedented look inside the world of Latino gangs, largely through the experiences of a man in Salinas, Calif., who raised his son to become a gang member. Journalists put in more than three years of hard work, building relationships and trust with gang members, obtaining grand-jury transcripts and poring over leaked FBI internal reports. They provide shockingly raw scenes of the Nuestra Familia gang in action, intricately detailing how it grew from a political movement among Mexican-American farm workers into a violent force that rules both the streets of California agricultural cities and the halls of the California prison system. Most significantly, “Nuestra Familia” brings home the sorrow of the agricultural community of Salinas, whose mothers desperately hope to break the cycle of gang violence before their sons’ sons are imprisoned or murdered.
- Chicago’s First Family of Clout —Chicago Sun Times ; Tim Novak, Robert Herguth, Steve Warmbir
- Vietnam – The War Crime Files — Los Angeles Times; Nick Turse, Deborah Nelson
- Julie Bykowicz package — The (Baltimore) Sun; Julie Bykowicz
- Mugus and Masters on the Nigerian web scam — ABC News; , Brian Ross, Rhonda Shwartz, Joseph Rhee, Len Tepper, Asa Eslocker, Dana Hughes, Christopher Isham, David Sloan, Jon Banner, Jim Murphy
Secret Political Piggy Bank — Times Union of Albany, N.Y.; James Odato, Michele Morgan Bolton, Fred LeBrun, Brendan Lyons, Elizabeth Benjamin, Carol DeMare, J. Robert Port, Rex Smith, Jim McGrath, Howard Healy and John de Rosier
Judges’ comments: When the Times-Union set out to expose how New York legislators used secret slush funds called “member items” to fund pet projects, they hit a stone wall. The government initially gave up a heavily redacted database with funding amounts but no sponsoring legislators’ names. So, the newspaper ended up suing the Assembly itself to force full disclosure of the financial records. In a lawsuit eventually joined by important media outlets across the state, the Albany paper was able to obtain records that showed how many lawmakers were funding suspect and sleazy deals through their secret funds. Among the findings: legislators underwrote pricey non-profits and no-show jobs for relatives, and supported the political organization of a state senator with a bribery conviction. There’s nothing like holding the writers of the FOI laws accountable — and this series did just that.
Farmsubsidy.org — Nils Mulvad, Brigitte Alfter and Jack Thurston
Judges’ comments: Nils Mulvad, a Danish investigative journalist, led a two-year effort to open archives all over Europe to expose the closely guarded secrets of farm subsidies. With help from journalist Brigitte Alfter and researcher Jack Thurston, records on subsidies were acquired from 17 of 25 of the European Union countries. The resulting information was put on a website and made available to reporters and others throughout the EU. It resulted in a number of important stories, including showing how millionaires were among the top recipients and how dairy subsidies were undermining farmers in the Third World. A truly important and groundbreaking effort that will pave the way for the opening of other European Union records to the benefit of journalists worldwide.
- Lead’s Dangerous Legacy — Cincinnati Enquirer ; Sharon Coolidge
- CDC — Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Alison Young
Student Work (All Media)
Judges’ comments: Students at the University of North Texas took on a formidable task when they set out to investigate anecdotal reports about the misuse of Tasers by police in Texas. They set out to obtain records from 254 sheriff’s departments and a couple hundred police agencies statewide to analyze use of the stun guns. Though many agencies fought or ignored them, the students eventually obtained thousands of pages of records, which they then scanned and made available on a public Web site. Though the idea came from a faculty advisor, persistent efforts from more than 40 UNT graduate and undergraduate students (as well as one from Baylor and one from Texas Christian University) made the project possible. The students got legal support from the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and editorial support from instructors who work at Fort Worth Weekly. Their reporting also was the basis of a student-driven story published in the Fort Worth Weekly that raised important questions about Taser use in Texas and inspired legislation meant to limit their use.
- Power Trips — Medill News Service; (full list of students)
- If these Walls Could Talk — The Minnesota Daily, (University of Minnesota); Brady Averill