2015 IRE Award winners

Honoring the best in investigative journalism

The annual IRE Awards recognize outstanding investigative work and help 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 past years can be found on this page.

The awards were presented at the 2016 IRE Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, June 18.

Download the press release

IRE MEDALS

The highest honor IRE can bestow for investigative reporting is the IRE Medal. This year, there are three medal winners. They are:

Seafood from Slaves,” The Associated Press (Category: Innovation Large)
Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan
View this story online

Judges’ comments: This piece excelled in nearly every way an investigative story can. AP reporters discovered an island home to thousands of enslaved laborers at work in Thailand’s multi-billion-dollar seafood export industry. Not content to merely document the plight of these workers, the AP traced the fruits of this slave labor all the way to the seafood counters in U.S. cities. This innovative approach to bringing the faraway story home to U.S. readers and its powerful use of multimedia storytelling made this piece the most innovative of the year, worthy of the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. Judges awarded it an IRE Medal for its moving execution and life-changing results. For years, industry had insisted conditions had improved, and AP’s story proved conclusively that thousands of laborers remained trapped in modern slavery. This project helped lead to freedom for approximately 2,000 slaves.

 

Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Worker Protections,”  ProPublica and NPR (Category: Print/Online Large)
Michael Grabell (ProPublica), Howard Berkes (NPR), Lena Groeger (ProPublica), Yue Qiu (ProPublica) and Sisi Wei (ProPublica)
View story from ProPublica and NPR

Judges’ comments: This project masterfully details how states across the nation have dismantled their workers’ comp programs, cutting benefits and sticking taxpayers with a growing bill for injured workers. Tackling an often overlooked topic, the reporters built databases tracking legislative changes in each state over the past dozen years, obtained benefit plans from some of the country’s largest companies and combed through thousands of pages of depositions. They used heartbreaking stories and interactive tools to present complex material in an elegant way. Their work paid off in legislative changes in several states, investigations and a wider discussion about needed changes. We are awarding this project an IRE Medal for its wide impact and its fresh approach to showing how employers continue to benefit at the expense of workers. 

 

Failure Factories,” Tampa Bay Times (Category: Print/Online Medium)
Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Nathaniel Lash
View this story online

Judges’ comments: With its deep reporting, clear writing and detailed data analysis, the Tampa Bay Times shamed and embarrassed Pinellas County school leaders for completely failing black children in the district. This story is the epitome of why desegregation was ordered in 1954 – to level the educational playing field for black children. In a few short years after the Pinellas district abandoned integration, its schools again became havens for the haves and have nots. One expert said what school leaders did was nothing short of “educational malpractice.” Unqualified teachers churned through the schools, leaving in their wake students who couldn’t read or write. The schools became dangerous battlegrounds for bullies and sexually-aggressive children. One young girl, so traumatized by daily life at a place that is supposed to be safe, laid down in the road, hoping to be run over by a car. Reforms are now underway because of the impressive commitment by the newspaper to right an alarming wrong.

 

SPECIAL AWARDS

Medals are also awarded to winners of two special award categories:

Tom Renner Award

The Khadija Project,” Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in collaboration with Radio Free Europe, Meydan TV, Sveriges Television, TT News Agency, Investigative Reporting Center of Italy, Bellingcat and other journalists.

Reporters: Miranda Patrucic (OCCRP), Joachim Dyfvermark (SVT), Ola Westerberg (TT), Sven Bergman (SVT), Paul Radu (OCCRP), Iggy Ostanin (Bellingcat), Eleanor Rose (OCCRP), Karim Secker, Olesya Shmagun (OCCRP), Lorenzo Di Pietro (IRPI), Lejla Camdzic (OCCRP), Boris Kartheuser (freelance), Sylke Gruhnwald (SRF) Julian Schmidli (SRF), Lovisa Moller (Factwise), Sofia Hultqvist (Factwise), Tolga Tanis (Hurriyet), Habib Abdullayev (Meydan TV), Lejla Sarcevic (OCCRP), Don Ray and Khadija Ismayilova  

Editors: Drew Sullivan, Jody McPhillips, Rosemary Armao, Deborah Nelson and Dave Bloss

Note that reporters from Azerbaijan cannot be named because of fear of arrest of family members. Azerbaijani reporters wrote under the pseudonym of their arrested colleague, Khadija Ismayilova.   

View this story online

Judges’ comments: This project honors the spirit of IRE’s Arizona Project in a powerful and uplifting way. With Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe and OCCRP, still in prison on politically motivated charges by Azerbaijani authorities, colleagues from several nations banded together to continue her reporting on corruption among the governing elites of Azerbaijan. The resulting reports – many filed under the assumed name “Azerbaijani journalists” — decoded a maze-like series of ownership structures that revealed the nation’s president and his family control powerful business interests, despite national law prohibiting the president or first lady from holding ownership stakes in private firms.  

Finalists:

  • “Plundering America,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, Sally Kestin, Megan O’Matz, John Maines, Tracey Eaton and Taimy Alvarez
  • “Lumber Liquidators,” 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Anderson Cooper, Katherine Davis, Sam Hornblower and Terry Manning
  • “Over the Line: Police Shootings in Georgia,” WSB-TV and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jodie Fleischer, Brad Schrade, Jennifer Peebles, Patti DiVincenzo, LeVar James, Ken Foskett, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ashlyn Still

 

FOI Award

CIA Torture, a Senate Investigation, and the Google Search That Launched a Spying Scandal,” VICE News
Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson
View this story online 

Judges’ comments: The CIA and other national security agencies have long resisted openness and transparency about their operations. But through a series of FOIA requests and federal lawsuits, VICE News pushed the CIA and the Department of Justice to declassify hundreds of pages of documents and turn them over. The resulting series of investigative reports revealed new details about the CIA’s use of torture, as well as spying the agency conducted on U.S. Senate investigators. Another story uncovered new details about the CIA’s interactions with the makers of the movie Zero Dark Thirty, about the killing of Osama bin Laden. The VICE News team was not afraid to sue when it felt it was being stonewalled, keeping agencies accountable at a time of unprecedented FOIA obstruction by the Obama administration.

Finalists:

  • “Private University Police Powers,” KPRC-Houston, Robert Arnold, Aaron Wische, John Barone, Jon Hill and Scott Sherman
  • “Perimeter Breaches at US airports,” The Associated Press, Martha Mendoza, Justin Pritchard, Raghuram Vadarevu, Pauline Arrillaga and Frank Baker
  • “Biolabs in Your Backyard,” USA TODAY, Alison Young, with Nick Penzenstadler,Tom Vanden Brook and a team from USA TODAY Network local newsrooms. Editing by John Hillkirk and John Kelly
  • “Battle to Preserve Access to Open Records,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Patrick Marley, Jason Stein and Mary Spicuzza

 

 

2015 Award winners and finalists by category:


PRINT/ONLINE

PRINT/ONLINE – LARGE

Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Worker Protections,”  ProPublica and NPR (medal winner)
Michael Grabell (ProPublica), Howard Berkes (NPR), Lena Groeger (ProPublica), Yue Qiu (ProPublica) and Sisi Wei (ProPublica)
View story from ProPublica and NPR 

Judges’ comments: This project masterfully details how states across the nation have dismantled their workers’ comp programs, cutting benefits and sticking taxpayers with a growing bill for injured workers. Tackling an often overlooked topic, the reporters built databases tracking legislative changes in each state over the past dozen years, obtained benefit plans from some of the country’s largest companies and combed through thousands of pages of depositions. They used heartbreaking stories and interactive tools to present complex material in an elegant way. Their work paid off in legislative changes in several states, investigations and a wider discussion about needed changes. We are awarding this project an IRE Medal for its wide impact and its fresh approach to showing how employers continue to benefit at the expense of workers. 

Finalists:

  • “Dysfunction in Drug Prices,” The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan D. Rockoff, Joseph Walker, Jeanne Whalen, Peter Loftus and Ed Silverman
  • “Testing Theranos,” The Wall Street Journal, John Carreyrou with Mike Siconolfi, Christopher Weaver and Rolfe Winkler
  • “The Mobile Home Trap,” The Seattle Times, The Center for Public Integrity and BuzzFeed News, Mike Baker and Daniel Wagner
  • “America’s Broken Guest Worker Program,” BuzzFeed News, Ken Bensinger, Jessica Garrison, and Jeremy Singer-Vine

 

PRINT/ONLINE – MEDIUM

Failure Factories,” Tampa Bay Times (medal winner)
Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Nathaniel Lash
View this story online

Judges’ comments: With its deep reporting, clear writing and detailed data analysis, the Tampa Bay Times shamed and embarrassed Pinellas County school leaders for completely failing black children in the district. This story is the epitome of why desegregation was ordered in 1954 – to level the educational playing field for black children. In a few short years after the Pinellas district abandoned integration, its schools again became havens for the haves and have nots. One expert said what school leaders did was nothing short of “educational malpractice.” Unqualified teachers churned through the schools, leaving in their wake students who couldn’t read or write. The schools became dangerous battlegrounds for bullies and sexually-aggressive children. One young girl, so traumatized by daily life at a place that is supposed to be safe, laid down in the road, hoping to be run over by a car. Reforms are now underway because of the impressive commitment by the newspaper to right an alarming wrong.

Finalists:

  • “Hidden Errors,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ellen Gabler
  • “Insane. Invisible. In Danger,” Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Leonora LaPeter Anton, Anthony Cormier, Michael Braga, and Chris Davis
  • “License to Launder: Cash, cops and cartels,” Miami Herald, Michael Sallah, Joanna Zuckerman-Bernstein and Antonio Delgado
  • “Suspect Shootings,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Mark Fazlollah, Dylan Purcell and Daniel Rubin

 

PRINT/ONLINE – SMALL

The Louisiana State Penitentiary: Where inmates aren’t the only scoundrels,” The Advocate
Maya Lau, Gordon Russell and Steve Hardy
View this story online

Judges’ comments: The warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola ruled with an iron fist and developed a reputation for transforming what had been America’s most violent jail through “moral rehabilitation.” But an investigation by The Advocate found that for two decades, warden Burl Cain profited from his position. After the newspaper reported that he engaged in real estate deals with two men tied to inmates, the warden stepped down. The newspaper’s reporting continued, however, documenting the warden’s long history of questionable side deals tied to the prison, his cashing in on lucrative retirement deals despite continuing to work, and how he has exaggerated and lied about his role in transforming Angola. Criminal investigations are now underway. Even in a state whose reputation is synonymous with corruption, The Advocate’s investigation broke through. 

Finalists:

  • “Opening the Black Box of Egypt’s Slush Funds,” Africa Confidential and the Angaza Foundation for Africa Reporting (TAFAR), Nizar Manek and Jeremy Hodge
  • “State Workers’ Boss Busted,” The News & Observer, Joseph Neff
  • “Destroying the Center for Building Hope,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Jessica Floum

 

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO

 BROADCAST/VIDEO- LARGE

Rape on the Night Shift”/”Violación de un sueño: Jornada nocturna,” FRONTLINE, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, The Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, KQED Public Radio and Univision
Daffodil Altan (Reveal/CIR), Andrés Cediel (IRP), Bernice Yeung (Reveal/CIR), Sasha Khokha (KQED), Lowell Bergman (IRP), Debora Silva (FRONTLINE), Nadine Sebai (IRP), Susanne Reber (Reveal/CIR), Andrew Donohue (CIR), Ingrid Becker (KQED), Isaac Lee (Univision), Daniel Coronell (Univision), Juan Rendon (Univision), Andrew Metz (FRONTLINE), and Raney Aronson-Rath (FRONTLINE)
View this story from FRONTLINE, Reveal/CIR, The Investigative Reporting Program, KQED and Univision

Judges’ comments: Night shift janitors are being raped on the job. It is so common that the workers whisper about who to avoid while cleaning offices. Janitors warn each other about supervisors who work late so they can attack while nobody else is around.  This documentary brought needed attention to this issue. The reporting team used lawsuits as a launchpad for the project that included scouring OSHA inspections, U.S. Department of Labor and law enforcement records. In all, the journalists interviewed more than 200 sources. Importantly, the story was presented in both English and Spanish online and on the air. Janitorial workers who worked out of sight, afraid to speak up, found a powerful, determined, patient and compassionate advocate.

Finalists:

  • “A Crime Against Humanity,” 60 Minutes-CBS News, Jeff Fager, Bill Owens , Scott Pelley, Nicole Young, Katie Kerbstat, Amjad Tadros ,Jorge Garcia, Ali Rawaf, Ayman Qudi ,Ian Robbie, Chris Everson, Dan Bussell, Anton van der Merwe and Everett Wong
  • “Outbreak,” FRONTLINE, WGBH/PBS, Dan Edge, Sasha Achilli, Andrew Metz, Raney Aronson-Rath and David Fanning

 

 BROADCAST/VIDEO- MEDIUM

INVISIBLE WOUNDS,” KARE-11
A.J. Lagoe, Gary Knox, Bill Middeke, Steve Eckert , Stacey Nogy, Jane Helmke and Laura Stokes
View this story online

Judges’ comments: KARE-11 television spent a year investigating how unqualified doctors denied treatment and benefits to patients with traumatic brain injury at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration hospital. In one case, the station found one veteran “was denied benefits after an exam done by a nurse practitioner” when a neurologist should have made that decision. In another case a veteran was denied care after not one but two unqualified doctors examined him. The VA’s own websites included false and misleading information about doctor’s licenses and certifications. The station told emotional stories built on a sturdy foundation of medical records provided by individual veterans, internal VA memos provided by sources, lawsuits, Office of Inspector General reports, Congressional testimony, state medical licensing records, medical board certification records and a mountain of documents produced by multiple FOIA requests. The VA responded to pressure from the reports and notified hundreds of vets that they were entitled to new exams. Members of Congress launched investigations and the VA’s Office of Inspector General opened a nationwide review. 

Finalists:

  • “LA’s Nuclear Secret,” KNBC, Southern California, Joel Grover, Matthew Glasser, Matt Goldberg, Andres Pruna, Jose Hernandez, Mike Cervantes and James Wulff
  • “Over the Line: Police Shootings in Georgia,” WSB-TV and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jodie Fleischer, Brad Schrade, Jennifer Peebles, Patti DiVincenzo, LeVar James, Ken Foskett, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ashlyn Still

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO – SMALL

Racial Profiling Whitewash,” KXAN/NBC, Austin, Texas
Brian Collister, Joe Ellis, Ben Friberg, Josh Hinkle and Chad Cross
View this story online

Judge’s comments:  Texas law requires police officers to list the race of each driver pulled over for an apparent traffic violation in order to avoid any pattern of racial profiling.  In a massive research effort involving 16 million state records of traffic stops going back five years, KXAN discovered and documented that state troopers were dodging any problems by writing down “white” for too many drivers, particularly Hispanics.  The six most popular names of “white” drivers listed as stopped by state police:  Smith, Garcia, Martinez, Hernandez, Gonzalez, and Rodriguez.  Officials at first tried to blame a flaw in their computer system before acknowledging the obvious. As a result of the reporting, troopers were ordered to show drivers which race was written on a ticket and give them an opportunity to confirm or correct that information.  KXAN also found the same pattern in the local Austin police department, which also took corrective steps.

Finalists:

  •  “Burning Questions,” WTAE Pittsburgh, Paul Van Osdol, Andy Benesh, Brian Caldwell, Dave Carulli, Kendall Cross, Andy Cunningham, TJ Haught, Eric Hinnebusch, Dave O’Neil, Steve Pierce, Cary Toaso, Michael Lazorko, Patti Pantalone, Kevin Kalia, Alex Marcelewski, Sally Wiggin, Jim Parsons, Justin   Antoniotti and Charles W. Wolfertz III
  • “Crumbling Foundations,” WVIT, New Britain, Conn., George Colli, David Michnowicz, Jon Wardle, Sharon Butterworth, Matthew Piacente and Garrett Allison
  • “Speaking Up for Special Needs,” FOX WITI Milwaukee, Meghan Dwyer, David Michuda and the WITI photojournalist staff
  • “Swiped: Financial Mismanagement,” WVUE, New Orleans, Lee Zurik, Tom Wright, Jon Turnipseed, Mikel Schaefer and Greg Phillips

 

INNOVATION IN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM


INNOVATION IN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM – LARGE

Seafood from Slaves,” The Associated Press (medal winner)
Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan
View this story online

Judges’ comments: This piece excelled in nearly every way an investigative story can. AP reporters discovered an island home to thousands of enslaved laborers at work in Thailand’s multi-billion-dollar seafood export industry. Not content to merely document the plight of these workers, the AP traced the fruits of this slave labor all the way to the seafood counters in U.S. cities. This innovative approach to bringing the faraway story home to U.S. readers and its powerful use of multimedia storytelling made this piece the most innovative of the year, worthy of the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. Judges awarded it an IRE Medal for its moving execution and life-changing results. For years, industry had insisted conditions had improved, and AP’s story proved conclusively that thousands of laborers remained trapped in modern slavery. This project helped lead to freedom for approximately 2,000 slaves. 

Finalists:

  • “Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Worker Protections,” ProPublica and NPR, Michael Grabell, Howard Berkes, Lena Groeger, Yue Qiu and Sisi Wei
  • “Left for Dead,” The Center for Investigative Reporting/Reveal, G.W. Schulz, Michael Corey, Emmanuel Martinez, Allison McCartney, Julia Smith, Fernando Diaz, Jennifer LaFleur, Michael Montgomery, Deborah George, Susanne Reber and Kevin Sullivan
  • “Fatal Shootings by Police,” The Washington Post staff
  • “Evicted and Abandoned: The World Bank’s Broken Promise to the Poor,” The Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post, The Investigative Fund, The GroundTruth Project, The Food & Environment Reporting Network, Fusion and other media partners

 

INNOVATION IN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM – MEDIUM

Over The Line: Police Shootings in Georgia,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV
Brad Schrade (AJC), Jodie Fleischer (WSB), Jennifer Peebles (AJC), Patti DiVincenzo (WSB), Ken Foskett (AJC), Jeff Ernsthausen (AJC), LeVar James (WSB) and Ashlyn Still (AJC)View this story from AJC and WSB

Judges’ comments: Atlanta’s major newspaper and its affiliated TV station published and aired more than two dozen stories over an eight-month period examining 184 fatal shootings by Georgia police officers over a decade. The team of journalists was able to encourage reluctant police, prosecutors and even grand jurors to go on the record, both in print and on camera, to break the code of silence which had kept serious issues about questionable shootings concealed from the public. Their teamwork produced an impressive database with names, dates, locations, photos of each person shot, and details of what happened. Their revelations led to a reform in Georgia’s laws this spring, a revocation of the unique privileges granted to police to sit inside a grand jury room during all proceedings involving them. 

Finalists:

  • “The 45-Minute Mystery of Freddie Gray’s Death,” The Baltimore Sun, Kevin Rector, Greg Kohn, Adam Marton, Catherine Rentz, Amy Davis, Kenneth K. Lam and Christopher T. Assaf
  • “Clash in the Name of Care,” The Boston Globe, Jenn Abelson, Jonathan Saltzman, Liz Kowalczyk, Scott Allen, Russell Goldenberg, Elaina Natario, Gabriel Florit, Scott LaPierre and David Butler
  • “Unprepared,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, Ed Jahn and the Oregon Public Broadcasting staff

 

INNOVATION IN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM – SMALL

Missed Signs, Fatal Consequences,” Austin American-Statesman
Andrea Ball, Eric Dexheimer, Jeremy Schwartz, Laura Skelding, Kelly West, Andrew Chavez, Scott Ladd, Gabrielle Muñoz, Chloe Gonzales, Eric Webb and Christian McDonald
View this story online 

Judges’ comments: In a powerful indictment of a critical state agency, reporters Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer uncovered hundreds of previously unreported deaths of children who were supposed to be monitored by Child Protective Services. The reporters mined data the state had been collecting for years but had neglected to analyze. Their project revealed that about half of the children who died from abuse or neglect were visited by CPS at least once before their death and nearly 20 percent had received three visits. The reporting was nuanced, showing the challenge that state workers faced as caseloads grew and the budget declined. As a result, state officials opened more child death records to the public and added $40 million to improve protection for children and their families. 

Finalists:

  • “Violation of Trust,” Belleville News-Democrat, , Beth Hundsdorfer, George Pawlaczyk and Zia Nizami
  • “Our Financial Mess,” The Commercial Appeal, Marc Perrusquia, Grant Smith, Beth Warren and Kyle Veazey


RADIO/AUDIO


RADIO/AUDIO – LARGE

The Red Cross’ Secret Disasters,” NPR and ProPublica
Laura Sullivan (NPR) and Justin Elliott (ProPublica) 
View this story from NPR and ProPublica

Judges’ comments: NPR and ProPublica discovered that America’s largest disaster recovery charity collected hundreds of millions of dollars after an earthquake devastated Haiti, but the charity failed to deliver the massive recovery it promised. Five years after the earthquake, more than 64,000 Haitians remain displaced, live in temporary shelters and even face eviction from their squatter communities. The stories said, “The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.”  The charity’s vision of Red Cross-constructed communities never materialized, while other charities found ways to build thousands of homes for needy Haitians. The reporting involved multiple trips to Haiti and focused on leaked internal documents from the charity. Congressmen called for investigations while the charity itself withholds details of how it spent the money that donors contributed. 

Finalists:

  • “Incredible Cops,” WNYC, Robert Lewis, Noah Veltman, Xander Landen and David Lewis
  • “Missed Treatment: Soldiers With Mental Health Issues Dismissed For Misconduct,” NPR and Colorado Public Radio, Daniel Zwerdling, Michael de Yoanna, Robert Little, Barbara Van Woerkom, Robert Benincasa, Smokey Baer, Jani Actman and Courtney Mabeus

 

RADIO/AUDIO – SMALL

Only in Kentucky: Jailers Without Jails,” WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting
R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan 
View this story online 

Judges’ comments: More than a third of Kentucky’s counties have no jails, and yet all 41 of these nevertheless have elected jailers. These jailers’ salaries, and the pay for their deputies, cost Kentucky taxpayers about $2 million a year. Reporters here traveled the state to interview all but two of these jailers, and found that they all had plenty of time on their hands. In place after place, the reporters found that jailers are required to do little or no work in return for salaries and benefits. The project stood out for the thorough data-driven reporting and the way its engaging interviews made for good radio.  

Finalists: 

  • Trouble Behind Bars,” Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, R.G.  Dunlop and Brendan McCarthy
  • Investigations into Hartford’s Treasurer,” WNPR, Jeff Cohen  
  • Climate Change’ Ban,” Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and WLRN Miami Herald News, Tristram Korten and Alicia Zuckerman

 

STUDENT


STUDENT – LARGE

Robin Hood in Reverse,” CityBeat, University of Cincinnati
Morgan Batanian, Katie Coburn, Fernanda Crescente, Taylor Jackson, Tyler Kuhnash, Camri Nelson, Taylor Hayden, Talis Linauts, Kayleigh Murch, Matt Nichols, Malia Pitts and Lauren Smith
View this story online 

Judge’s comments:  CityBeat documented how more than $20 million a year in student fees and tuition money helps subsidize football and other sports at the University of Cincinnati. “It seems to be a corruption in education,” said one honor student. “I didn’t come to UC for sports. I came here for education,” said another student. The CityBeat team showed how students were each paying, unwittingly, more than $1,000 a year to help with the cost of improving the football stadium and other sports expenditures. At the same time, spending-per-student on undergraduate education had dropped almost 25 percent in recent years. The CityBeat team used various open records requests to survey all other public universities in Ohio and found four more schools were charging students roughly $1,000 a year and up. The only such school without these student costs to help underwrite sports:  Ohio State, whose highly successful football team generates a fortune for its university.

Finalists:

  • “America’s Weed Rush,” Arizona State University, , Alexa Ard, Rilwan Balogun, Josh Benson, Tom Blanton, Michael Bodley, Kathryn Boyd Batstone, Katie Campbell, Jayson Chesler, Clarissa Cooper, Lauren del Valle, Dom DiFurio, Quint Forgey, Brianna Gurciullo, Brittan Jenkins, Kelcie Johnson, Calah Kelley, Sean Logan, Karen Mawdsley, Montinique Monroe, Martin do Nascimento, Matias J. Ocner, Emi Sasagawa, Anne M. Shearer, Nick Swyter, Lex Talamo, Shawn Weismiller and Jessie Wardarski
  • “The Brothel Next Door,” University of Maryland Capital News Service,  Kathryn Secret, Jin Kim, Jessica Evans, Courtney Mabeus, Jon Banister, Lisa Driscoll, Natalie Tomlin, Ana Mulero, Naomi Eide, Carly Morales, James Levin and Alexis Jenkins

 

STUDENT – SMALL

Tax evasion in Princeton’s eating clubs,” The Daily Princetonian
Marcelo Rochabrun
View this story online 

Judges’ comments: Marcelo Rochabrun mined thousands of pages of 990s to show how lavish social “eating” clubs at Princeton University raised $20 million to renovate taprooms, lounges and dining halls in their extravagant facilities. Leaders of these clubs, similar to sororities/fraternities, set up educational foundations to hand out tax breaks to their donors, which is a violation of IRS guidelines. His investigation was deeply reported and fairly exposed problems with these campus “sacred cows” that are not accustomed to scrutiny. 

Finalists

  • “Code of Silence,” Columbia University Journalism School, Scilla Alecci and George Steptoe
  • “Driving with suspended license top crime in Menlo Park, many lose cars,” Peninsula Press, Farida Jhabvala Romero

 

INVESTIGATIONS TRIGGERED BY BREAKING NEWS

The Death of Freddie Gray,” The Baltimore Sun
Meredith Cohn, Doug Donovan, Justin George, Jean Marbella, Mark Puente, Kevin Rector, Scott Dance, Justin Fenton, Greg Kohn, Adam Marton, Patrick Maynard, Catherine Rentz, Amy Davis, Karl Merton Ferron, Kenneth K. Lam and Christopher T. Assaf
View this story online

Judges’ comments: Beyond covering this explosive story in a traditional breaking news style, the staff of The Baltimore Sun brought meaning to the chaos that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. In addition to excellent breaking news coverage in the weeks after Gray’s death, reporters from The Sun produced investigative pieces revealing the crucial timeline of Gray’s ride in the back of a police van, the fact that police often failed to seek medical care for detainees and that others had been fatally injured in the city’s police transport vans. As the protests that exploded after Gray’s death became a national story, The Sun led the way with coverage that was picked up and credited by media outlets across the country. The stories raised important issues that became central to the prosecution of six officers in Gray’s death.

Finalists:

  • “Sandra Bland jail suicide,” The Houston Chronicle, St. John Barned-Smith, Leah Binkovitz, Jayme Fraser, Matt Dempsey, Mike Tolson, Dane Schiller, Lauren McGaughy and Madlin Mekelburg
  • “Black Out in the Black Belt,” AL.com, John Archibald, Kyle Whitmire, Lee Roop, Mike Cason and Adam Ganucheau

 

BOOK

Shots on the Bridge: Police violence and cover-Up in the wake of Katrina,” by Ronnie Greene 
More about the book 

 Judges’ comments: Ronnie Greene, Washington Enterprise Editor at Reuters, reveals the toxic mix of confusion, fear, racism and politics that led to the shooting by New Orleans police of six poor, black refugees from Hurricane Katrina, and — over the next decade — a cover-up and botched prosecution that still denies justice to the victims. As is always true of the best investigative reporting, Greene’s work leaves readers outraged at the abuses he uncovered and proud of the quality of his work.

  • Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency,” by Charlie Savage
  • “Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone,” by Scott Shane

 

GANNETT AWARD FOR INNOVATION IN WATCHDOG JOURNALISM

Seafood from Slaves,” The Associated Press (Category: Innovation Large)
Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan
View this story online

Judges’ comments: This piece excelled in nearly every way an investigative story can. AP reporters discovered an island home to thousands of enslaved laborers at work in Thailand’s multi-billion-dollar seafood export industry. Not content to merely document the plight of these workers, the AP traced the fruits of this slave labor all the way to the seafood counters in U.S. cities. This innovative approach to bringing the faraway story home to U.S. readers and its powerful use of multimedia storytelling made this piece the most innovative of the year, worthy of the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. Judges awarded it an IRE Medal for its moving execution and life-changing results. For years, industry had insisted conditions had improved, and AP’s story proved conclusively that thousands of laborers remained trapped in modern slavery. This project helped lead to freedom for approximately 2,000 slaves.

 

For questions or concerns about the IRE Awards please contact Lauren Grandestaff, lauren@ire.org, 573-882-6668.