2018 IRE Award winners and finalists

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 will be presented at the 2019 IRE Conference in Houston, Texas on Saturday, June 15.

 

IRE MEDALS

The highest honor IRE can bestow for investigative reporting is the IRE Medal. This year, there is one medal winner. It is:

Myanmar Burning,” Reuters, Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their Reuters colleagues

Judges’ comments: Reporters at great risk to their lives revealed the Myanmar government’s horrific slaughter and ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. Journalists used stunning photos, governmental records and courageous interviews of victims and perpetrators to document the carnage. Two of the lead reporters were jailed by Myanmar authorities in an apparent attempt to block publication. But Reuters’ work wouldn’t be stopped. The eventual stories led to worldwide condemnations and sanctions from the European Union and Canada. In the aftermath, chastened Myanmar authorities convicted seven soldiers for their role in the killings. Yet, the two journalists remain jailed. Myanmar officials need to know that you can’t stop a story by locking up journalists. IRE was founded on that very principle, and other journalists will continue their work.

 

SPECIAL AWARDS

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

 

TOM RENNER AWARD (for covering organized crime or other criminal acts)

Winner

Judges’ comments: Long before the rest of the world started paying attention to Yemen, Maggie Michael was on the ground, telling shocking and heartbreaking stories of torture, kidnapping and abuse. At great personal risk, she cataloged the tragedies that others preferred to ignore.

Finalists

Alabama’s Beach House Sheriff,” AL.com

Judges’ comments: This category awards great coverage of organized crime, but sometimes the bad guys wear uniforms. This is a strong example of journalism uncovering exploitation and wrongdoing by those who have the public trust.

Trashed,” ProPublica, Type Investigations, Voice of America

Judges’ comments: Kiera Feldman took readers along for a ride with New York’s swashbuckling trash collectors. Along the way, she showed us the seedy underbelly of an industry that has long been home to the criminal element.

 

FOI AWARD

Winner

  • The Force Report,” NJ Advance Media, Craig McCarthy, Carla Astudillo, Stephen Stirling, S.P. Sullivan, Erin Petenko, Disha Raychaudhuri, Blake Nelson, Yan Wu, Joe Atmonavage, Christopher Baxter, Ashleigh Graf

Judges’ comments: Judges saw the interactive database built as part of this entry as the gift that keeps on giving from this newsroom to its community. The project really furthers the cause of open government and open records and puts New Jersey in a unique position of being able to hold its police agencies truly accountable by allowing the public to better monitor abuses and police discipline.

Finalist

VA Nursing Home Quality Revealed,” USA TODAY and The Boston Globe

Judges’ comments: An important attempt to shed light on previously undisclosed public records. A huge public service to the veterans and their families who use these facilities.


2018 Award winners and finalists by category:

PRINT/ONLINE – Division I

Winner

  • Myanmar Burning,” Reuters, Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and their Reuters colleagues (medal winner)

Judges’ comments: Reporters at great risk to their lives revealed the Myanmar government’s horrific slaughter and ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. Journalists used stunning photos, governmental records and courageous interviews of victims and perpetrators to document the carnage. Two of the lead reporters were jailed by Myanmar authorities in an apparent attempt to block publication. But Reuters’ work wouldn’t be stopped. The eventual stories led to worldwide condemnations and sanctions from the European Union and Canada. In the aftermath, chastened Myanmar authorities convicted seven soldiers for their role in the killings. Yet, the two journalists remain jailed. Myanmar officials need to know that you can’t stop a story by locking up journalists. IRE was founded on that very principle, and other journalists will continue their work.

Finalists

Hurricane Maria’s Dead,” Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, Quartz, The Associated Press

Judges’ comments: This team’s admirable effort did what the Puerto Rican government would not: Provide an accurate account of Hurricane Maria’s death toll and explore the reasons why.

Deadly Deliveries,” USA TODAY

Judges’ comments: This series pieced together the little-known role that hospitals played in the needless deaths of childbearing women, sparking national reforms that will impact families across America.

Trump Taxes,” The New York Times

Judges’ comments: This incredible series of stories based on a difficult archaeological dig of confidential tax and banking records obliterated decades of myths central to Donald J. Trump’s identity and political rise.

Trapped in Gangland,” ProPublica, New York Magazine, Newsday, This American Life, New York Times Magazine

Judges’ comments: The investigation exposed how Latino teenagers were often victims of President Trump’s war against the MS-13 gang and uncovered systemic blundering by law enforcement and questionable deportations.

 

PRINT/ONLINE Division II (tie)

Winners

  • Heartbroken,” Tampa Bay Times, Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi

Judges’ comments: Stunning work that really represents what IRE is about. Built on solid shoe-leather sourcing as well as impressive and unique data analysis in an area where there were not available lawsuits or a host of public records. Most importantly, this series had compassionate storytelling about a children’s heart hospital, along with results. The impact was swift and significant, triggering resignations and a full review across the hospital chain.

  • Pain & Profit,” Dallas Morning News, J. David McSwane and Andrew Chavez

Judges’ comments: A masterful expose of critical flaws in the sprawling Medicaid managed care system as well as sloppy state oversight affecting the most vulnerable. Great storytelling and unique data analysis, handled with a compelling human touch alongside great use of public records, reporting and confrontation of official stonewalling. Immediate impact with state action on funding, better tracking of individual cases and reform moving forward.

Finalists

Inside the Secret Courts,” Boston Globe

Judges’ comments: An amazing look at an unusually secretive part of the Massachusetts’ district court system and a smart approach to investigate a court system that keeps no records.

Toxic City: Sick Schools,” The Philadelphia Inquirer

Judges’ comments: Great reporting, clear writing, real community involvement, unique data analysis and database, with great follow-up and impact.

Denied Justice,” Star Tribune

Judges’ comments: Exceptional work on systemic failures in sex-assault investigations and a unique document and data analysis, which proves that Minnesota is inadequately serving the victims of violent sexual crimes.

 

PRINT/ONLINE — Division III

Winner

Judges’ comments: The Miami Herald exposed a horrific abuse of power that otherwise might have gone untold if not for these journalists. This shocking, deeply reported story lives up to its name. Time and again, prosecutors who swore to uphold justice turned their backs on victims and aided a wealthy criminal. The Herald documented this shameful mess in such stunning detail that the reader can only wonder whether the participants had lost all morality.

Finalists

Bad Medicine,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today

Judges’ comments: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today delivered an extraordinary report with eye-popping findings on inadequate tracking of doctors with questionable if not criminal pasts.

Parkland,” South Florida Sun Sentinel

Judges’ comments:  The South Florida Sun Sentinel dug deep to expose the cascade of errors that preceded and followed the school shooting at Parkland and cost children their lives.

 

PRINT/ONLINE — Division IV

Winner

Judges’ comments: If Kyle Hopkins had not told this story, it likely never would have been told. Harrowing and revelatory, this quick-turnaround investigation had a high degree of difficulty in an insular, far-flung corner of the country.

Finalist

California Prosecution Fees,” Desert Sun

Judges’ comments: Huge impact for exposing a government program that abused citizens. This is journalism serving as an important check on the government and prompted a much-needed state law to ban such abuses.

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO — Division I

Winner

Judges’ comments: An international team of investigative reporters revealed how top UN officials covered up crucial information about the murder of the UN experts Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This investigation demonstrated a dedication to shoe-leather reporting on a project with a high degree of difficulty undertaken at great personal risk. The team took a huge institution, the UN, to task for looking the other way when murders were covered up. Great storytelling, undercover sources, secret documents, compelling personal profiles of the victims and stellar photography. In a time when journalists and peacekeepers are under attack around the world, this piece did so much to illustrate the reality of those risky careers and the lengths some officials will go to hide the truth.

No finalists

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO — Division II

Winners

  • Lien on Me,” KUSA-TV, Denver, Chris Vanderveen, Chris Hansen, Anna Hewson, Katie Wilcox, Nicole Vap

Judges’ comments: The investigation exposed how more than a dozen surgeons operating in at least eight hospitals in Colorado charged exorbitant fees. Rather than signing up with insurance companies to control patient costs, the surgeons instead sent them bills far higher than expected — all working with one credit company, which placed more than 170 surprise liens on the homes of their patients. One appendicitis patient’s insurance paid $557 for his operation, but the patient then received a bill from his surgeon for another $3,408. A classic case of doctors violating their Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

Finalist

Back of the Class,” KING 5, Seattle

Judges’ comments: The investigation documented how schools throughout the state were short-changing special education students, limiting their classroom hours and, in one case, busing students home at least an hour early.

Flipped,” WXIA-TV, Atlanta

Judges’ comments: Journalists obtained police videos exposing how certain suburban police officers had abused their power. In one case, police stopped a 13-year-old boy driving a golf cart and left him in a police car with the heater turned off and windows down. In another case, two police officers used a coin flip to decide whether to charge a speeding driver.

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO — Division III

Winner

  • The Two-Hour Diploma,” Fox45 News, Baltimore, Jeff Keene, Chris Papst, Carolyn Sachse, Dwayne Myers, Kevin Drennan

Judges’ comments: The investigation made a laughingstock of Maryland’s laws that allow churches to set up their own schools without oversight by the State Department of Education. The station sent a young man with an undercover camera into a row house church to pay a $180 fee to receive a diploma after completing one course in two hours. Fox45 was even able to set up its own “Church of Good News” and get certified by the state for its own school: the “Good News Academy.”

Finalists

Oil Empire,” KXAN-TV, Austin

Judges’ comments: Journalists dug into property records across west Texas to reveal how the chair of the commission regulating the state’s oil and gas industry had failed to reveal the long list of oil businesses that she and her father owned. She also failed to recuse herself in voting on issues in which she had a conflict of interest.

Forcing the Peace,” WCPO-TV, Cincinnati

Judges’ comments: An analysis of use-of-force data in the Cincinnati area showed how police across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky, had by far the worst record. Newport Police accounted for one of every five incidents examined among 17 police departments, with tolerance from the top for continuing violence toward people arrested.

Corruption in the Cumberland,” WSMV-TV, Nashville

Judges’ comments: The investigation exposed how the head of the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency claimed payment for times that he was not at work. In one instance, he was begin paid his per-diem amount while he and his wife were on a cruise. In another, he was paid while on a hunting trip. The stories led to a state investigation and eventually to his being fired.

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO — Division IV

Winner

Judges’ comments: Taking on a sitting Bishop in real time is not an easy task. Reporters were able to win the trust of an insider in an institution that is known for its locked door of secrecy and obtain crucial smoking-gun documents proving the ongoing cover-up of abusive priests. The reporters, themselves Catholics, faced personal retribution in their community. Outstanding production values made a document-heavy investigation come alive.

Finalist

Power Price Spike; State Takes Action,” WGME-Portland, Maine

Judges’ comments: Reporters uncovered how a Maine power company’s problems with its new billing system lead to a mysterious spike in usage.

 

RADIO/AUDIO – LARGE

Winner

  • Insult to Injury,” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, PRX, KQED, Will Evans, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Katharine Mieszkowski, Taki Telonidis, Ziva Branstetter

Judges’ comments: We loved how Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX exposed what real life is like for the people behind the luxury products. The journalists here pulled back the curtain on how Tesla prioritized speed over the safety of its factory workers. Reveal and PRX persevered in the face of pushback by a powerful public figure and company. They packed their report with details that still stick with us today. The investigations spawned by the package prove the story had real impact.

No finalists

 

RADIO/AUDIO – SMALL

No winner

Finalists

She Says,” WFAE

Judges’ comments: The reporters did an excellent job of building the trust required to create a powerful narrative that combined accountability with human interest.

Fatal Flaws,” Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Ohio Valley ReSource, Center for Public Integrity

Judges’ comments: The team highlighted how a system that was supposed to protect workers failed over and over again.

Fighting The Wrong Fires,” Oregon Public Broadcasting

Judges’ comments: A strong, creative, transparent and nuanced investigation of the spiraling human and financial cost of wildfires.

 

STUDENT – LARGE

Winner

Judges’ comments: Great work exposing health risks to New York City public school students by compiling available data that previously had not been examined this way. The result is news-you-can-use at its best: important, nuanced, and contextualized information about school cafeteria food presented in a way that’s easy to understand and use. The online mapping and look-up tools win this an A+ for presentation.

Finalists

Abandoned Mines,” Cronkite News, Arizona PBS

Judges’ comments: Exposes danger that is becoming more significant as more people move into previously undeveloped areas, and the lack of government resources to combat it.

 

STUDENT – SMALL

Winner

Judges’ comments: Puncturing the secrecy of a private university is difficult and great training for the job that journalists spend their lives doing. The students showed that the university knew a student threatened his professor more than a year before killing him, but still allowed the student back on campus. They searched court records, obtained crime logs and uncovered the fact that the university did not have a threat assessment system in place before the murder.

Finalist

Architecture & Design Turmoil,” University Daily Kansan

Judges’ comments: The reporter found that the university paid a secret settlement to a director of communication for the school of architecture to resign quietly.

Labeled for Life,” Columbia Missourian

Judges’ comments: The reporter explored the complex web of state laws that dictate where sex offenders can live.

 

INVESTIGATIONS TRIGGERED BY BREAKING NEWS

Winner

  • Zero Tolerance,” ProPublica, Ginger Thompson, Nadia Sussman, Adriana Gallardo, Derek Kravitz, Decca Muldowney, Alex Mierjeski, Claire Perlman, Lilia Chang, Ken Schwencke, Jess Ramirez, Kavitha Surana, Robert Faturechi

Judges’ comments: The excruciating sounds of children’s cries from inside a detention center still reverberate all these months later. The secret recording uncovered by ProPublica’s Ginger Thompson fundamentally changed the national conversation around the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and ultimately helped force the administration to change course. And the work ProPublica did to document every facility where immigrant children were being held was an incredible undertaking and helped reporters nationwide dig deeper into the shelters, the agencies running them, and the conditions inside.

Finalists

Tragedy on Table Rock Lake,” Kansas City Star

Judges’ comments: Within hours after a “duck boat” sank, killing 17 people, the Star jumped all over the story, covering it like a blanket. Their reporting exemplified the reason this category was created.

The Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi,” CNN

With an intense international spotlight on the story of Khashoggi’s disappearance, CNN broke new ground, including the existence of a body double at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

 

IRE Award for Sports Investigations

Winner

  • Spartan Secrets,” ESPN Outside the Lines/E:60, John Barr, Paula Lavigne, Dan Murphy, David Lubbers and Nicole Noren

Judges’ comments: The ESPN team exposed a decades’ long cover-up within the Michigan State athletic department that allowed Larry Nassar, a team doctor at the school and for USA Gymnastics, to assault hundreds of athletes. But the investigation went well beyond the actions of Nassar, and  unveiled a widespread pattern of denial, inaction and, information suppression including the fact that Michigan State knew in 1997 that Nassar was trouble and failed to act. The investigation involved fighting for public records in court and winning the trust of reluctant survivors of Nassar’s assaults of them on campus.

Finalists

Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.,” Boston Globe

Judges’ comments: Jailhouse calls, text messages and documents tell this complete portrait of a troubled football star and the system that helped create him.

Indian Hills Community College,” Daily Iowegian

Judges’ comments: In a punching-above-its-weight story, this small newspaper asked the right questions after a community college decided not to renew the contracts of two coaches, and landed a goldmine.

The Swoosh Effect,” The Oregonian

Judges’ comments: This is an intriguing look into the upside — and the dark side — of international sneaker company sponsorships and the impacts on youth basketball. The findings are damning.

 

BOOK

Winner

Judges’ comments: When some Silicon Valley start-ups go bust, the most serious consequence is investors losing money on what they knew to be a high-risk venture. But a few of those ventures deal in a real-world product that could mean life or death to flesh-and-blood humans. The Theranos start-up was selling blood testing that needed to be reliable. If the blood testing yielded unreliable results, humans’ response to new pharmaceuticals being examined might lead to medical complications, even death. Author Carreyrou exposes how a product that sounded too good to be true fooled so many for so long.

Finalist

The Girl From Kathmandu: Twelve Dead Men and a Woman’s Quest for Justice” by Cam Simpson

Judges’ comments: Overcoming a high degree of difficulty, Simpson digs out evidence from Nepal to Jordan to Iraq to the United States. The result is a compelling expose about a dozen unsuspected men traveling far from home to earn wages for honest labor, only to be captured and murdered by Islamic extremists. Simpson admirably employs investigative techniques to demonstrate the ripple effects of the little-publicized international carnage.

 

GANNETT AWARD FOR INNOVATION IN WATCHDOG JOURNALISM

  • Toxic City: Sick Schools”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wendy Ruderman, Barbara Laker, Dylan Purcell, Jessica Griffin, Garland Potts, James Neff

Judges’ comments:

We selected “Toxic City: Sick Schools” for its innovative data collection effort, superb storytelling and extensive impact. Reporters recruited and trained school staffers to test schools for lead in water, lead paint, mold, silica and asbestos in areas where reporters were not allowed to go. If accredited labs returned truly alarming test results, journalists notified the school district of the hazards, even though publication was months away. They published results in an easy-to-use web tool called School Checkup. Among the many reforms the series prompted, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf directed nearly $16 million to repairs and emergency cleanup, and the worst school is slated to be demolished.


Contest entries are screened and judged by IRE members who are working or retired journalists. Work that includes any significant role by any member of the IRE Contest Committee or the IRE Board president may not be entered in the contest. IRE Board members who do not serve as judges may enter their work. First-round screeners may not review categories in which their news organization could compete.

Beginning with work published or aired in 2019, board members may not enter the IRE awards if they contributed in a significant way to the work. Such examples would include named reporters/producers or the front-line editors/executive producers.

Work in which the board member did not play a significant editorial role can be entered. Ultimately, the contest judging committee will determine whether the role is acceptable or not.

Serving on the Contest Committee represents a significant sacrifice on the part of the individual contest judge — and often an entire newsroom — that may have done outstanding investigative work. For example, some work from Gray Television, WSMV, The New York Times, The Chicago Reporter, Pacific Standard, Voice of OC, and St. Louis Public Radio was ineligible for entry in this year’s contest.

This year’s contest judges:

  • Jill Riepenhoff, InvestigateTV – Chair
  • Nancy Amons, WSMV
  • Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times
  • Kathy Kiely, University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Jonah Newman, Pacific Standard
  • Jim Polk, formerly of CNN
  • Norberto Santana Jr., Voice of OC
  • Kameel Stanley, St. Louis Public Radio

To ensure fairness and transparency, some judges were not present during deliberations due to potential conflicts of interest. They are:

  • Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times – Print/Online Division I
  • Jill Riepenhoff, InvestigateTV – Tom Renner
  • Nancy Amons, WSMV – Broadcast/Video Division III
  • Kameel Stanley, St Louis Public Radio – Radio, Small
  • Kathy Kiely, University of Missouri-Columbia – Student, Small

IRE, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to training and supporting journalists who pursue investigative stories, and it operates the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a joint program of IRE and the Missouri School of Journalism.

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