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2021 Award Winners

Philip Meyer Award

The Philip Meyer Journalism Award recognizes the best journalism done using social research methods.
First Place

“How TikTok Figures You Out” | The Wall Street Journal

By Rob Barry, Yoan Cart, Dave Cole, Jason French, Robert Libetti, Maureen Linke, William Mata, Frank Matt, Darnell Stalworth, Joanna Stern, Christopher S. Stewart, Kenny Wassus, Georgia Wells, and John West

Judges’ comments: “Reporters at the Wall Street Journal revealed how TikTok's algorithm can send users, including teens, into a seemingly endless stream of potentially harmful videos on sex, drugs, and depression. The Journal created over 100 bots, each programmed to pause for specific types of content, to see where the social media site sent them. The bots collected hundreds of thousands of videos and thumbnail images, which were analyzed using a variety of machine learning and image classification techniques designed for unusually large collections of this kind. The reporters found in some cases, the algorithm sent the bot down a rabbit hole of dark or dangerous content.

“By presenting their first findings in a video, the Journal showed non-technical audience the threads of extreme content that the bots were pushed into viewing. The combination of simulations and analysis in uncovering this troubling and sometimes appalling content was, in the judges' view, an important extension of the social science methods that the Philip Meyer Award is meant to recognize.”

Second Place

"Black Snow: Big Sugar’s Burning Problem" | The Palm Beach Post and ProPublica

By Lulu Ramadan of The Palm Beach Post, and Ash Ngu and Maya Miller of ProPublica

Judges’ comments: “The Palm Beach Post and ProPublica teamed up to gauge air quality in the Glades -- an agricultural region in Florida with cane fields that produce more than half the nation’s cane sugar -- during the four months of the cane-burning season. The project probed the relationship, if any, between cane burns and increased air pollution at residents’ homes. The Palm Beach Post and ProPublica collaborated with residents to set up low-cost sensors outside their homes. Their analysis of more than 100 days of data discovered spikes in fine particulate matter on days when the state authorized cane burns. In addition to the quantitative analysis of the air-quality data, reporters gathered qualitative data about the effects of cane smoke, using a text bot that surveyed residents whenever their sensors detected a spike in pollution.”

Third Place

“Gilded Badges: How New Jersey Cops Profit From Police Unions and Avoid Accountability” | Asbury Park Press and ProPublica

By Andrew Ford of the Asbury Park Press, and Agnes Chang, Jeff Kao and Agnel Philip of ProPublica

Judges' comments: “The Asbury Park Press-ProPublica team scraped thousands of municipal contracts and pension documents, then built a natural language processing workflow to find gold in the archive of bureaucracy. In one case, actual gold, in the form of a $7,000 police badge. Gilded Badges uncovered dozens of incidents of questionable practices, huge leave liabilities, overpaid officers, illegal payouts and other contract language and perks that make New Jersey cops strikingly well paid and protected.”

The judges for the Philip Meyer Award for Precision Journalism were:

  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Chair in Data Journalism at Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Brant Houston, Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • David McKie, Deputy Managing Editor at Canada’s National Observer
  • Jodi Upton, Knight Chair in Data and Explanatory Journalism at Syracuse University

Golden Padlock 

The Golden Padlock Award recognizes the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States.


Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry won the 2021 Golden Padlock Award for suing newspaper reporter Andrea Gallo over a public records request. Gallo, an investigative reporter for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune, filed a request in December for copies of sexual harassment complaints made against the head of the attorney general’s criminal division. The agency said it would not release the complaint because it contained private information. Landry then took the extraordinary step of suing Gallo, asking the judge to seal the record and prohibit Gallo from disclosing any information pertaining to the complaint. In response, Gallo’s attorney called it “simply unfathomable” that Landry would sue before even attempting to redact portions of the sexual harassment complaint, as the newspaper had suggested. A judge rejected Landry’s argument in March and ordered the release of the record.

  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
  • The Indian Health Service
  • The Trustees of Algonquin Township in McHenry County, Illinois

To learn more about each agency, click here.

Don Bolles Medal

The Don Bolles Medal recognizes investigative journalists who have exhibited extraordinary courage in standing up against intimidation or efforts to suppress the truth about matters of public importance.

  • Josh Chin, The Wall Street Journal
  • Chao Deng, The Wall Street Journal
  • Philip Wen, The Wall Street Journal
  • Chris Buckley, The New York Times

Deng, Chin and Wen were expelled from China in February 2020 in the first mass expulsion of journalists in the post-Mao era. While the government of China claimed that it was retaliating for the headline of an opinion column (knowing that the Journal's news and editorial operations are completely separate), the expulsions enabled Chinese officials to suppress critical reporting about the government's failures. 

Deng was reporting from Wuhan about the ongoing coronavirus crisis when the Foreign Ministry ordered her to cease all journalistic activity and to prepare for expulsion from the country. Her reporting had revealed questions about the accuracy of the government's COVID tests and about how the outbreak had overwhelmed the city's health care system. Previously, Deng exposed how Western companies had become "entangled in China's campaign to forcibly assimilate its Muslim population." 

Wen's reporting raised questions about the potential involvement of Chinese President Xi Jinping's cousin in organized crime, money laundering and influence-peddling schemes. He also revealed how China had shifted its strategy for dealing with ethnic Muslims from forced re-education centers to more subtle forms of control. 

Chin had reported on how China, in an effort to snuff out a Muslim separatist group, had turned the autonomous region of Xinjiang "into a laboratory for high-tech social controls." He revealed how the government, after rounding up Muslim Uighur residents, had demolished neighborhoods in an attempt to purge their culture. Chin also reported on how employees of Huawei Technologies had helped African governments to spy on their political opponents. 

In July 2020, in a signal of the Chinese government's determination to extend its repressive reach, New York Times reporter Chris Buckley was forced to leave Hong Kong after authorities refused to renew his visa. 

Two months earlier, Buckley had been reporting from Wuhan when his press card expired, and he was forced to pack his bags and leave mainland China. In the early days of the outbreak, Buckley had described conditions "with the sick being herded into makeshift quarantine camps, with minimal medical care, a growing sense of abandonment and fear."  

His reporting had previously revealed how China was detaining Muslims in vast numbers, "where they are forced to listen to lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write 'self-criticism' essays." He was part of the duo that published the leaked Xinjiang Papers, more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents that exposed details of the Chinese government's mass detention of Muslims. 

IRE Awards

Winners & finalists by category

Print/Online - Division I


The Secret IRS Files,” ProPublica, Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, Paul Kiel, Justin Elliott, James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, Robert Faturechi, Ellis Simani, Doris Burke, Agnes Chang and Lucas Waldron   

Judges’ comments: This investigation made a once-in-a-lifetime leak of tax returns accessible through meticulous reporting and plain language and graphics. The reporters exposed the creative ways the world’s richest people amass unparalleled wealth while paying virtually no taxes. The historic effort revealed gross absurdities and inequities of the tax system, prompting a global conversation about possible reforms.


Airstrikes Gone Wrong,” The New York Times, The Staff of The New York Times

Judges’ comments: Through exhaustive use of open records requests, dogged reporting and an immense interactive database of primary documents, this project revealed thousands of previously unreported civilian casualties — many of them children — that were the result systemic failures of accountability within the US military.

Hidden Interests,” The Wall Street Journal

Judges’ comments: A searing expose of the unquestionable abuse of power by judges who failed to disclose conflicts of interest in cases before them that led to bill in Congress to curb future abuses.

Print/Online - Division II (MEDAL WINNER)


Poisoned,” Tampa Bay Times with the support of PBS Frontline, Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington, Eli Murray

Judges’ comments: “Poisoned” was an extraordinary and incredibly focused investigation.The data was difficult to acquire and piece together, making this investigation a step above the rest. On top of the stunning journalism, the lengths that these reporters took to get the certifications was remarkable and made it rise to the level of an IRE Medal. The judges were left speechless. Outstanding!


After Hours: Fostering Chaos,” KING5 Seattle

Judges’ comments: Tackling such a notoriously hard-to-cover topic is commendable. This work led to much-needed change and forced accountability where there was none. Shining light on the wrongs perpetrated on society's most vulnerable is among the highest of callings for journalists.

"Unsettled: Cashing in on Accident Victims,” Minneapolis Star Tribune

Judges’ comments: This story called attention to an issue that had not previously been highlighted. Ambitious reporing and investigating that provided solutions to those impacted.

"State On Fire," The California Newsroom

Judges’ comments: A infruriating story with far-reaching impacts. A good example of a classic piece of investigative journalism.

Print/Online - Division III


Wires and Fires,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA Today Network, Raquel Rutledge, John Diedrich, Daphne Chen

Judges’ comments: This project exposed a scourge in the poorest areas of Milwaukee: No one was investigating who was to blame for deadly fires that were caused by hazardous wiring. The project explored how powerful business interests, particularly landlords and developers, had weakened laws that would have better protected tenants from dying in fires at rental properties. The compelling visuals also showed exactly how to detect signs of hazardous wiring. The judges were particularly impressed with a consultant commissioned by the Journal Sentinel to spot-check the safety of rental properties in fire-prone areas – something the city itself had never done.


"A labor camp, a Super 8 and a long bus ride home,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Judges’ comments: Compelling piece that brought a human touch to a complicated labor story, highlighting an institution's bad actions in the middle of a pandemic and the resulting impacts on a vulnerable population whose stories may never have otherwise been told.

Windsor mayor investigation,” San Francisco Chronicle

Judges comments: Thorough, exhaustive and damning revelations of a small-town mayor (with bigger political aspirations) who repeatedly preyed upon women in his community. Impressive effort from a persistent reporter who presented a clear look at a toxic culture - placing the allegations within a historical context and even noting the international breadth - that allowed him to continue his predatory ways.

Print/Online - Division IV


Death Sentence,” The Indianapolis Star, Tim Evans, Ryan Martin, Robert Scheer and Ko Lyn Cheang

Judges’ comments: The Star’s work in “Death Sentence” shines a glaring light on what’s happening behind bars in Indiana’s jails. The fact that the team took on the task of counting deaths and piecing together an entire system, which hadn’t been done before, allows the work to stand out. The investigation also goes beyond accountability by examining solutions and offering information to the public, allowing people to find out what’s happening in jails in their communities. From the innocent people harmed and the impact on their families, to the perspective from law enforcement willing to go on record..the Indy Star weaved together personal stories and data, which made people care, and that was powerful.


"Uncovered," The Post and Courier

Judges’ comments: This investigation truly shows the power of collaboration. It’s a major public service and reveals what happens when we’re not watching!

Secrets of the Death Chamber,” The State

Judges’ comments: Great example of watchdog reporting and a relentless effort to uncover what had been kept secret. Judges were blown away reading the executioner’s perspective, which most people probably have never heard before.

Video - Division I


The Island of Secrets,” Al Jazeera Media Network, Al Jazeera I Unit

Judges’ comments: This was compelling visual storytelling by Al Jazeera that merged satellite imagery and shipping data to tell a more complete story about how the Indian government has been transforming a remote Mauritian island. The investigative team focused on data to definitively answer lingering questions about what was happening to the island. Journalists also overcame technical challenges to access information from the island. That included obtaining pictures and videos that more clearly showed the island’s infrastructure transformation over time. Al Jazeera also elevated the voices of island residents to shed light on the potential human ramifications.


Broken Medical Boards,” CBS Mornings

Judges’ comments: A revelatory investigation that shined a light on the secrecy of medical boards and how limited oversight of doctors can put patients at risk.

Video - Division II


The GAP: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect,” KARE11, Brandon Stahl, A.J. Lagoe, Steve Eckert, Gary Knox, Ron Stover

Judges’ comments: This project revealed a stunning exception in the adjudication process that allowed profoundly mentally ill individuals who were charged with crimes to be released without appropriate care and supervision. In more than a hundred cases the state couldn’t track, these individuals would be charged with other crimes — including murder. 


"Politically Charged," ABC15 Arizona

Judges’ comments: The team exposed how one of America’s largest police departments fabricated charges against activists and protesters and got almost immediate results. After this reporting, all false charges were dropped against the protesters and multiple officers were demoted, reassigned and placed under investigation.

Aundrea's Final Ride: A Culture In Question," KMGH Denver7

Judges’ comments: When you call 911, you expect a response and to be taken to the nearest emergency room. Through simple maps and graphics and emotional reporting, this project showed what happens that isn’t always the case, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Video - Division III


Failure Factory,” Fox45 News, Baltimore, Carolyn Peirce, Chris Papst, Jed Gamber, Dwayne Myers, Ray Rogowski

Judges’ comments: Working off a tip from a stunned parent, Project Baltimore was able to shed light on how Baltimore City Public Schools failed to educate students while mismanaging funds. Between confirming "ghost students" and going beyond the publicly available data many stated was flawed, they were able to penetrate a system and develop relationships with sources to prove what had been happening - unnoticed - inside Augusta Fells Savage High School for years. When Fox45 initially broke the story in March 2021, City Schools tried to downplay the significance of the findings. However, after an internal investigation, they too confirmed Fox45's reporting. The Maryland State Department of Education even announced City Schools may have to pay back money that it received in 2019 to educate students who were not in school at Augusta Fells.


Utah's Parole Supervision Failure,” KUTV 2 News Salt Lake City

Judges’ comments: This investigation exposed how Utah’s Adult Probation and Parole lost track of over 300 parolees in the state each month - increasingly putting the public at risk. Despite obstacles put in place by the Utah Department of Corrections, the team was persistent in pursuing information and even uncovered specific instances of mismanagement that led to deadly consequences.

Attention to the Details,” WVUE-New Orleans

Judges’ comments: A great effort put forth to uncover New Orleans Police Department officers bending the rules for lucrative gains. Catching police in the act with blatant disregard for the impact on taxpayers, the team was able to identify an officer on the clock while in his personal race car, others breaking department policy work hour limits and several instances of double billing – working on‐duty and off‐duty detail shifts at the same time.

Video - Division IV


The Death of Jamal Sutherland,” WCSC Charleston, Raphael James, Lisa Weismann, Nick Reagan, Katie Kamin, Thomas Gruel, Jennifer Dale, Carter Coyle, Jared Kofsky, Katilin Stansell, Rob Way, Live 5 News Staff

Judges’ comments: The story of Jamal Sutherland was compelling and emotional. The level of detail that Live 5  took to tell this story was incredible, talk about punching above your weight! Dogged reporting at its best – the importance of this story was demonstrated in the number of resources and amount of time the team dedicated to the project.


Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis,” KSLA - Shreveport

Judges’ comments: Thoughtful and intentional reporting on a story that just can't get enough attention.

"Dangerous Pursuits," KARK - Little Rock

Judges’ comments This work exposed a technique that many had no knowledge of. Kudos to the team for following the investigative thread, breaking the story, and for using multiple investigative techniques. Persistance in reporting paid dividends over and over. 

Audio - Large (TIE)


Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe,” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Al Letson, Jonathan Jones, Kevin Sullivan, Michael I Schiller, Steven Rascón, Amy Mostafa, Sarah Mirk, Rosemarie Ho, Nikki Frick, Ko Bragg, Michael Montgomery, Laurel Hennen Vigil, Melissa Lewis, Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda, Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy, Kathryn Styer Martinez

Judges’ comments: Through its compelling storytelling, interviews and years-long reporting, Reveal raises serious questions and ultimately casts doubt on the death investigation of Billey Joe Johnson. The team managed to obtain records in a state notorious for keeping them secret, which was just the start of what their investigation unraveled. Hearing the medical examiner admit, on record, that the case could now be viewed through a different lens was major. Ultimately though, while the focus of “Mississippi Goddam” may have been Johnson’s case, the team manages to tell a much bigger story about systemic racism in America. From beginning to end, the episodes reflects upon ugly truths of the past that continue to impact the present, revealing how race continues to play a role in the criminal justice system in our country.

Hot Days: Heat’s Mounting Death Toll On Workers In The U.S.” NPR, The California Newsroom, The Texas Newsroom, Columbia Journalism Investigations and Public Health Watch, Cheryl W. Thompson and Robert Benincasa (NPR); Jacob Margolis and Adriene Hill (The California Newsroom); Stella M. Chavez, Sara Willa Ernst, Dominic Walsh and Fernanda Camarena (The Texas Newsroom); Julia Shipley, David Nickerson, Brian Edwards, Cascade Tuholske and Kristen Lombardi (Columbia Journalism Investigations); Kim Krisberg and Jim Morris (Public Health Watch)

Judges’ comments: Outstanding collaboration and compilation of stories uncovering the dangers workers face outside in the heat from just doing their job. The team does a superb job of explaining the multiple levels of failures. From OSHA and its soft penalties and lack of inspection, to the companies that hire these men and women, and ultimately the federal government which could set the standard with a law. In fact, establishing that there’s no regulatory standard for heat in the workplace was revelatory! Furthermore, with a warming planet and climate change, this is an issue workers will continue to face, which makes such an investigation even more critical.


There Is Anger. He Should Be Alive,” KQED

Judges’ comments: This is a true example of what accountability looks like. The reporter’s relentless efforts and dogged reporting helped shape an investigation that told an important story from communities whose stories often go unheard. It also offered practical information for workers, which helped the investigation stand out from other coverage in this space.

Audio - Small


Dig: The Model City,” Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Newsy, Eleanor Klibanoff Carrie Cochran, Karen Rodriguez, Maia Rosenfeld, Maren Machles, Kate Howard, Laura Ellis, Ellen Weiss, Rosie Cima, Mark Fahey, Zach Cusson, Mai Nolasco-Carranza, J. Tyler Franklin, Chelsae Ketchum

Judges’ comments: “The Model City” placed listeners at the center of how the city of Louisville failed to reform its police department despite participation in a key federal program. Relying on records and extensive interviews with local officials and residents, KyCIR transported listeners to multiple environments to better understand how far the city’s public commitment had unraveled. The focus on community voices also captured a collective grief that highlighted how much is at stake with future policy actions. 


Behind The Blue Wall: Officers Describe A ‘Toxic’ Culture Within Metro Police,” WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio

Judges’ comments: A thorough review of public records, disciplinary data and police interviews that provided listeners a new way of looking at how racism and bias play out inside a police department, despite policies to prevent harassment and discrimination.

Student - Large (MEDAL WINNER)


Printing Hate,” The University of Maryland - Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

Judges’ comments: As the mainstream media reckons with its racist past, this collaborative project went well-beyond any of those efforts to show the complicity of newspapers in race-based violence by creating a permanent archive of the very hate-filled pages. In an interactive database and presentation and through more than a dozen stories of the lives lost, this effort ensures that this history is not tucked away in an archive and forgotten. The judges quickly realized this project was IRE Medal-worthy.


Little Victims Everywhere,” Howard Center for Investigative Journalism - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication    

Judges’ comments: This investigation laid bare the generational failures to protect some children on reservations from predators in a searing, yet sensitive way.

Unmasking America,” News21

Judges’ comments: This project exposed the disparities in COVID infections that are exacerbated by systemic inequities, despite billions in government funding. 

Student - Small


The COVID-19 Money Trail,” The Daily Targum, Hayley Slusser, Madison McGay, Chloe Tai

Judges’ comments: Student work at its finest… landing an investigation that reveals wrongdoing, prompts public scrutiny, leads to reforms, and has meaningful impact. This caliber of work is among what you’d see in a professional paper. Impressive.


Alumni allege history of inappropriate conduct with female students by Princeton professor Joshua Katz,” The Daily Princetonian      

Judges’ comments: A sensitive topic that was well-reported and handled. For a student paper to take on such a difficult issue is noble. Reporting was exhaustive.

Real estate agents in school board land deal are accused of ‘working both sides,’ increasing cost to Alachua County taxpayers,” Fresh Take Florida

Judges’ comments: A story with a difficult subject matter was made easy to understand and impossible to ignore. The steps taken to authenticate materials from tipsters was time-consuming, but necessary and well-done.

Investigations Triggered by Breaking News (TIE)


What Parler Saw During the Attack on the Capitol,” ProPublica 

Judges’ comments: A massive undertaking of data collection that uniquely captured the Jan. 6 insurrection from a wide range of vantage points. ProPublica’s exhaustive review of riot-related videos resulted in a unique interactive that provided the public with an early archive of history — work that would later be cited in criminal affidavits and Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing.

Unprepared: Texas Winter Storm 2021,” The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, Jolie McCullough, Duncan Agnew, Erin Douglas, Kate McGee, Jeremy Schwartz, Kiah Collier, Vianna Davila

Judges’ comments: The team’s coverage of a large winter storm was not just hard-hitting accountability journalism, it was public service at its best. A team of journalists worked under difficult personal conditions to provide Texas residents with basic information about their health and safety while also combating misinformation from public officials about the cause of the resulting power outages.


No Escape Plan,” Houston Chronicle

Judges’ comments: The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the deadly Astroworld music festival is the epitome of thorough breaking news coverage: A combination of source reporting and technology that clearly connected the dots chronologically for readers and immediately raised questions about accountability. 

IRE Award for Sports Investigations


National Women's Soccer League,” The Washington Post, Molly Hensley-Clancy

Judges’ comments: A comprehensive look at a system of abuse inside the world of American women’s soccer at a time when the sport is growing in popularity. The Washington Post’s Molly Hensley-Clancy revealed allegations of verbal and emotional abuse within the National Women’s Soccer League and the inaction of its governing body. Through interviews with current and former players, Hensley-Clancy offered readers a glimpse at a culture of silence and questionable labor practices.


The Inside Story of How the NFL Got Its 17th game,” ESPN

Judges’ comments: An investigation that revealed behind-the-scenes labor negotiations for one of America’s premiere sports — and raised important questions about players’ health and safety in the process.

Courtney's Story,” Defector

Judges’ comments: An examination of domestic abuse allegations against a powerful football assistant and the lengths that people took to protect him. Diana Moskovitz’s interview with the spouse of the assistant added a nuanced layer to the coverage.



Code of Silence - Sexual Misconduct by Federal Judges, the Secret System that Protects Them, and the Women who Blew the Whistle,” Lise Olsen

Judges' comments: With few public records and reluctant sources, the judges were impressed with how much Olsen was able to publish on previously undisclosed judicial sexual misconduct at the federal level. Her detailed writing educates the reader on just how hard it is for survivors to speak up about workplace sexual harassment and assault, particularly when the perpetrator enforces justice. 


Driving While Brown: Sheriff Joe Arpaio Versus the Latino Resistance,” Terry Greene Sterling and Jude Joffe-Block

Judges’ comments: We thought Sheriff Arpaio's behavior was pretty well-covered, but Greene Sterling provides new details and unfettered interviews in this well-documented book. 

Special IRE Awards

Tom Renner Award (for Covering Organized Crime or Other Criminal Acts)


The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe,” The Outlaw Ocean Project and The New Yorker magazine, Ian Urbina

Judges’ comments: This project showed how European nations attempt to curb immigration from Africa in dozens of languages and multiple formats, ensuring it was widely accessible not only to those who participate in the system but those who are subject to it, serving as a warning. The team took great personal risk in this investigation, as they were literally kidnapped. 


Beatings, bigotry and cover-ups at the Louisiana State Police,” Associated Press

Judges' comments: This project revealed systemic and egregious violations of human rights by local police that would not have been exposed without the tenacious FOIA efforts of the team and persistent reporting. This story is sadly common across the US but shows the power of video in documenting abuses of power.

"Pandora Papers," International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Washington Post, Miami Herald and nearly 150 other media partners around the world

Judges' comments: This latest entry in major, international collaboration was the largest ever, coordinating the efforts of more than 600 journalists to show criminals dodge accountability and ruin lives in the process, while hiding their money in offshore firms.

FOI Award


The Hidden Tab," Spotlight PA & The Caucus, Angela Couloumbis, Sam Janesch, Brad Bumsted, Mike Wereschagin and Sarah Anne Hughes

Judges’ comments: “Hidden Tab” demonstrated the true cost of government! Spotlight PA and The Caucus executed a multi-layered FOIA strategy to develop something that hadn’t been done before, and ultimately revealed the myriad of ways in which state legislators spend millions of tax dollars in questionable ways. Furthermore, they highlighted a dynamic that people don’t often think about in the per diem. The team’s work included bi-partisan reaction and a powerful solutions aspect in the form of what the legislature could do to be more transparent in the future, which could also lead to change. The team’s exhaustive process and method in which they leveraged FOIA fundamentally “opened government” and that’s a true example of what this type of reporting should look like.


Board lessens punishment in Title IX inquiry,” Madison County Record

Judges' comments: This investigation is a great example of what small teams can do. The team took a legal route to continue reporting which was powerful. In a small town, where everyone knows everyone, they also managed to report on this difficult subject, with a level of sensitivity that was crucial. Their reporting also drove interest in civic participation which wasn’t there before.

Battling police secrecy in Alabama,”

Judges' comments: Kudos to the team for finding a work around to get secret information that should be public in the first place! The fact that they leapfrogged the typical public records process and went directly to judges and got them to release video, helped shine a light on the truth and changed the game for reporting on this story and subject.

Contest entries are screened and judged by IRE members who are working journalists. Work that includes a significant role by any member of the IRE Contest Committee or the IRE Board may not be entered in the contest. Work in which board members did not play a significant editorial role can be entered. First-round screeners may not review categories in which their news organization could compete.

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.

This year’s contest judges:

  • Zaneta Lowe, WREG-TV – Chair
  • Barbara Rodriguez, The 19th - Vice-chair
  • Shannon Isbell, WBRC Fox6
  • Angeliki Kastanis, The Associated Press
  • Fernando Diaz, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern

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

  • Angeliki Kastanis - Student - Large
  • Shannon Isbell - Video Division 3

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

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

109 Lee Hills Hall, Missouri School of Journalism   |   221 S. Eighth St., Columbia, MO 65201   |   573-882-2042   |   |   Privacy Policy
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