2009 Philip Meyer Award winners

The awards were presented at the 2010 CAR Conference in Phoenix.

The contest, for work published or broadcast between October 2008 and October 2009, attracted entries from across the country. Stories are available to IRE members through the IRE Resource Center. Click on a story link below or contact us at 573-882-3364.

First Place

The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools“, USA Today
Staff: Blake Morrison and Brad Heath

In “The Smokestack Effect”, USA Today reporters Blake Morrison and Brad Heath used techniques from social and physical sciences to examine the levels of air pollution at schools across the country. They gathered tens of millions of air quality and industrial pollution records and the locations of nearly 128,000 schools, then used the Environmental Protection Agency’s own pollution model to identify thousands of schools where the air was far more toxic than in nearby neighborhoods. USA Today teams also spent weeks gathering air samples at 95 schools in 30 states, proving high pollution levels at two-thirds of them. The stories prompted immediate action from the EPA, including creation of a $2.25 million program to monitor air quality at schools.

Second Place

MRSA: Culture of Resistance“, The Seattle Times
Staff: Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong

Using an ingenious data analysis approach, The Seattle Times exposed a shocking increase in Washington hospitals of the cases of the drug resistant germ MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphloccus aureus) – and the state inspection system that allowed it to happen. The reporters used state death records and patient-discharge data (which contained no specific code for MRSA) to stitch together a way to identify and track the incidents of MRSA at individual hospitals. They also analyzed state inspection records and did a survey of hospitals to illuminate problems and cases.

Third Place

Compromised Care“, Chicago Tribune
Staff: Reporters David Jackson, Gary Marx and Sam Roe, and Web applications and data management by Brian Boyer, Joe Germuska and Ryan Mark.

This project began with curiosity and concern about a news brief reporting that a 69-year old woman in an Illinois nursing home had been raped by another resident – a 21-year old psychiatric patient with a history of violence. The subsequent investigation revealed dangerous systemic failures to protect elderly patients in Illinois nursing homes that have been used increasingly to house mentally ill younger residents, including murderers, sex offenders, and armed robbers. Trends were detected by making connections between records and datasets from a wide variety of sources. An interactive Web site allows users to explore the records of individual nursing homes. The project has prompted ongoing state and federal action to curb abuses.

Honorable Mention

Perfectly Legal“, Arizona Republic
Staff: Robert Anglen, Ryan Konig, Andrew Long and David Fritze

This four-day series exposed a system in which 22 charities and dozens of affiliates moved $130 million among themselves while often performing little charitable work. The newspaper’s team combined traditional investigative reporting with social network analysis of thousands of documents to track the money from the U.S. through Canada, England, the Philippines and South America.