2010 Philip Meyer Award winners

The awards were presented at the 2011 CAR Conference in Raleigh, N.C..

The contest, for work published or broadcast between October 2009 and October 2010, 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 or [email protected] .

First Place

Grading the Teachers“, Los Angeles Times Staff: Jason Felch; Jason Song, Doug Smith, Sandra Poindexter, Ken Schwencke, Julie Marquis, Beth Shuster, Stephanie Ferrell and Thomas Lauder (Los Angeles Times); Richard Buddin (RAND Corporation)

 

“Grading the Teachers” is a first-rate example of strong watchdog story-telling combined with innovative use of social science methods. Indeed, the point of the project was the failure of Los Angeles school officials to use effective methods to measure the performance of classroom teachers. The Los Angeles Times, applying a method called gain-score analysis to a huge database of individual students’ test scores and their teachers, identified the most and least effective teachers based on how much the students’ scores improved. The Times hired a national expert in gain-score analysis to do the data crunching, adding credibility to the results, but also did additional statistical analysis to identify high- and low-performing schools and otherwise verify their findings. In identifying and rating 6,000 teachers by name, the Times outraged the teachers’ union, but the series has prompted district officials to begin negotiating with the union to use the gain-score method in evaluations. Another sign of the impact of this series is that newspapers across the country have begun requesting similar data from local school districts.

 

Second Place

Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice“, Center for Public Integrity
Staff: David Donald, Kristen Lombardi, Gordon Witkin, Kristin Jones and Laura Dattaro (Center for Public Integrity); Robert Benincasa and Joseph Shapiro (NPR)

 

In “Sexual Assault on Campus,” a collaboration of seven news organizations led by the Center for Public Integrity used sophisticated survey methods as the underpinning of a high-impact series that detailed the human cost of the hidden crime of rape on campuses, showing that those found responsible for sexual assault on public and private college campuses often face no punishment and that student victims face barriers to reporting the crimes. It combined compelling personal stories of the victims with solid research backing up the broad trends. The Center pieced together records from students who agreed to share their stories, reviewed 10 years’ of reports from universities, surveyed on- and off-campus rape crisis centers and compiled lawsuits and complaints filed with the Education Department. The survey, while helping to document the problem of unreported and unpunished sexual assault on campuses across the country, also helped the reporters find sources and subjects for their stories. The series led to changes in policies concerning the treatment of students found responsible and the introduction of national legislation to fix the problem.

NPR partnered with the Center for part of the project. And several news organizations did regional stories, including the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Texas Watchdog, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and InvestigateWest.

 

Third Place

Immigrants and the California Economy“, The Orange County Register
Staff: Ron Campbell

 

“Immigrants and the California Economy” is a meticulous and revelatory series of stories that makes extraordinary use of Census and immigration data to show that California relies on immigrant labor more than any other state and almost more than any developed country. By analyzing Census Public Use Microdata from 1970-2008 and combining that with other data and reporting, Orange County Register staff writer Ron Campbell illuminated “the economics of immigration” and presented findings that showed that immigrants in California have filled most of the new jobs since 1970 and that foreign workers have become the primary outside source of labor. He also coupled his Census work with immigration data and studies that revealed immigration enforcement policies have been ignored for decades and that “the odds of an illegal immigrant being detained at work were 1 in 1,300.” The series of stories angered many readers who interpreted the stories as “pro-immigrant,” but no one challenged the accuracy of the data. Indeed, Campbell’s analysis of the microdata and his particular attention to the margin of error in his results is a tutorial in itself for journalists employing statistical methods. All in all, it is a thorough and compelling data-driven project that replaced perceptions with the facts.