IRE is adding its voice to the growing movement to persuade The Pulitzer Prizes to make participating in an annual staff diversity survey a condition of seeking journalism’s highest honor.
The IRE Board of Directors unanimously approved signing a letter asking Pulitzer officials to begin the requirement in 2024. The letter has been signed by more than 175 journalism entities.
Most U.S. news organizations have refused to participate in the News Leaders Association survey year after year, showing a glaring lack of transparency about industry diversity that is particularly troubling in this time of racial reckoning.
"Investigative journalism purports to be about accountability and shedding light on inequities. Yet that lens of accountability is rarely turned inward within journalism," said IRE Vice President Kat Stafford. "Change is uncomfortable. But, frankly, this isn’t an issue any of us should be neutral on."
IRE believes, as do the other groups who have signed the letter, that requiring news organizations to participate in a diversity survey before they can enter the Pulitzer contest would be a strong incentive to provide the data necessary to effect real change.
Pulitzer Prizes officials have said their board members may consider it at summer meetings.
For more information, read this Poynter.org story.
IRE is proud to present two showcase panel discussions during the IRE22 conference in Denver, tackling important themes of leadership, cultural reckoning, and the power – and challenge – of newsrooms working together. Both panels will take place Friday, June 24, livestreamed for virtual attendees and recorded for later viewing.
"Kicking Glass" features a powerhouse panel of women in command of some of the most successful newsrooms, brands and investigative teams today.
What were their paths up the ladder to the leadership positions they hold today, and what are the biggest challenges they face now? How do these accomplished journalists of color guide their teams as they cover reckonings outside the building – while examining reckonings inside it? And how do you encourage culture shift among teams without inviting the criticism that you’re more activist than journalist?
Dawn E. Garcia, director of the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University, will moderate a discussion among these panelists:
"Kicking Glass" will take place from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. MDT in room Colorado B.
"Banding together for truth," will take us behind the scenes of how 16 competing newsrooms teamed up to fight for access to videos of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
How did the media coalition that sued the government come to be, and has it set a precedent for future First Amendment battles? Hear from some of the esteemed journalists who took up the cause as they discuss the power of video to combat the denial of fact and address the question: Are we better together?
Pierre Thomas, chief justice correspondent for ABC News, will moderate a discussion among these panelists:
"Banding together for truth" is sponsored by ABC News and will take place from 5 - 6:15 p.m. MDT in room Colorado B.
Investigative Reporters and Editors has named its finalists for the 2022 Golden Padlock Award honoring the most secretive public agency or official in the U.S.
Drawn from a competitive crop of nominations across the country, five finalists were chosen for their extraordinary commitment to undermining the public’s right to know through delays, denials, court challenges and even surreptitious monitoring of journalists. Among the finalists is a government agency honored for hiding details of how parolees left unmonitored committed offenses including rape and murder. Another attempted to impose a 55-year timeframe for the release of COVID-19 drug approval documents. A third has denied documents from a “transparent” review of state election protocols ordered by a judge to be made public. A fourth targeted university journalism faculty investigating a major philanthropic donation to their school. Another fought for three years to deny public access to police bodycam footage in a fatal shooting that triggered a murder trial.
"The strict internal codes of silence at work in these cases are breathtaking," said Golden Padlock committee chair Robert Cribb. "These finalists offer a compelling reminder of the essential role investigative reporters play in unearthing hidden truths and revealing how public officials paid with public money to uphold the public trust can find their strongest motivation in self interest."
The finalists for the 2022 Golden Padlock Award are:
The winner of the 2022 Golden Padlock Award will be announced during the awards luncheon at the IRE22 conference on Saturday, June 25, in Denver.
Investigative Reporters & Editors is establishing the IRE Ring of Honor, a new fundraising initiative celebrating members who have made a significant contribution to the organization and to investigative journalism.
Nominations to the Ring of Honor can be made in tribute to current or retired IRE members or in memoriam to deceased members.
It’s a great way for individuals or a group of people to thank a friend or colleague for their service while also paying it forward by raising money for IRE fellowships.
Here’s how it works: To nominate a person to the Ring of Honor, fill out a short nomination form available under the "Donate" link on the IRE website. The nomination requires approval of the IRE Board of Directors.
If the nomination is approved, the nominating person or group must raise a minimum of $2,500 in the name of the person to be honored. Once that minimum is raised, IRE will add the person’s name to the Ring of Honor and memorialize it on the IRE website and in other IRE materials. The names of the new honorees will be announced at the next IRE conference.
Donors still will be able to add to the fund in the honoree’s name after they have been inducted to help grow the IRE Ring of Honor fellowship fund.
The fund for fellowships will allow qualified recipients to access IRE benefits, such as attending conferences, participating in training and networking with other investigative journalists.
For questions, contact Anna Lopez at email@example.com.
Robyn Vincent of Mountain West News Bureau and Sergio Martinez-Beltran of NPR’s The Texas Newsroom will serve as IRE’s 2022 Journalists of Color Investigative Reporting Fellows.
Vincent is building an inequality beat at the Mountain West News Bureau, a consortium of NPR stations serving the American West. She has been with the bureau since November 2020. Prior to that, she launched the news department at Jackson Hole Community Radio in Wyoming and was editor of an alt-weekly newspaper there. She is a graduate of Wayne State University.
Vincent’s project centers on the deaths of Indigenous people.
Martinez-Beltran, a Texas political reporter, has been with The Texas Newsroom, a public radio collaboration with NPR and Texas stations since March 2022. Prior to that, he was at Bridge Michigan, and he also worked for Nashville Public Radio. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Martinez-Beltran’s project will dive into the mounting evidence that shows that migrant workers in Texas face uncompensated overtime work, harassment, and outright assault. It will also explore the powers that allow this to happen.
IRE’s yearlong fellowship is designed to increase the range of backgrounds, experiences and interests within the field of investigative journalism, where diverse perspectives are critically important. The 2022 fellowship program is open to U.S. journalists of color with at least three years of post-college work experience.
Vincent and Martinez-Beltran were selected based on the projects they pitched in their applications. They will continue in their current professional roles while receiving a suite of IRE resources and support. These include training at an IRE data journalism bootcamp and both annual conferences, and they will receive IRE data services. Most importantly, they will each receive a mentor network of IRE members who will guide them through their year-long project.
The IRE Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship was initially made possible thanks to generous donations from IRE members Meghan Hoyer, Megan Luther, Mike Tahani and Mike Gruss. Additional funding was provided by the IRE community and company sponsors ABC News, CNN, ESPN, Gray Television and Hearst Foundations. More than $100,000 has been raised to support the program.
Applications for the 2023 IRE Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship will be available in October 2022.
If you’d like to donate to the fellowship, go here and indicate your contribution is for the JOC fellowship.
Investigations that revealed the story of Florida employees poisoned while trying to earn a paycheck, uncovered the deaths of those working in scorching heat across the country and scrutinized the role of race and inequality in society are among the recipients of the 2021 Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards.
“The winners of the 2021 IRE Awards not only represent the best of the best in investigative journalism, but they serve as a true reflection of why our work is so critical right now,” said Zaneta Lowe, chair of the IRE Awards contest committee. “We saw powerful storytelling, projects with immediate impact and pieces that served as a true public service to their communities. This year's winners also included student work that made me proud to see where our industry is headed. Congratulations to the winners and finalists!”
This year’s winners were selected from more than 500 entries. The awards, given since 1979, recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 17 categories across media platforms and a range of market sizes.
Note: You must be logged in with your IRE membership to access stories through the resource center
“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
- “Hidden Interests,” The Wall Street Journal
“Poisoned,” Tampa Bay Times with the support of PBS Frontline, Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington, Eli Murray
“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
- "Unsettled: Cashing in on Accident Victims,” Minneapolis Star Tribune
- "State On Fire," The California Newsroom
“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
- “Windsor mayor investigation,” San Francisco Chronicle
“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
- “Secrets of the Death Chamber,” The State
“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
“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
- “Aundrea's Final Ride: A Culture In Question," KMGH Denver7
“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
- “Attention to the Details,” WVUE-New Orleans
“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
- "Dangerous Pursuits," KARK - Little Rock
“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
“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
“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
- “Unmasking America,” News21
“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
“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.
- “Courtney's Story,” Defector
- “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
“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
- “Battling police secrecy in Alabama,” AL.com
“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
- "Pandora Papers," International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Washington Post, Miami Herald and nearly 150 other media partners around the world
“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
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:
To ensure fairness and transparency, some judges were not present during deliberations in specific categories due to potential conflicts of interest. They are:
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 573-882-6668.
Investigative Reporters and Editors is pleased to announce that Gina Chua will deliver the keynote address at the 2022 IRE Conference in Denver, June 23-26.
The incoming executive editor for a media startup founded by Justin and Ben Smith will address conference attendees in Denver on Saturday, June 25 at the awards luncheon. The keynote address and awards ceremony will be livestreamed and recorded.
“On behalf of the IRE board of directors, we are thrilled to welcome a journalist of Ms. Chua’s stature to give our conference keynote address,” IRE board president Mark Walker said. “Her dedication to journalism and the organization made the board’s decision an easy one.”
Chua is a longtime newsroom manager with a career spanning three decades and five countries. Most recently at Reuters, Chua was executive editor, responsible for editorial operations. Before she transitioned, Chua — then Reg — held a number of other roles in the newsroom, including overseeing the graphics department and helping set up the data journalism team. She was previously editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and spent 16 years at The Wall Street Journal in Manila, Hanoi, Hong Kong and New York.
“Gina has been a steadfast supporter of IRE and investigative journalism for years, and her reputation for mentoring and training journalists precedes her,” said Cindy Galli, board member and conference committee chairwoman. “She’s a trailblazer in so many areas, and we’re thrilled to welcome her in Denver this June to address our members.”
Chua created and found funding for a fellowship to bring Asian journalists to New York University for a masters’ degree in business and economic reporting. She speaks regularly on changes in the industry and ways to rethink and restructure journalism and newsroom processes; some of her writings are at Structure of News. She transitioned in late 2020, making her one of the most senior transgender journalists in the industry.
Applications are now open to participate in the IRE Conference mentorship program, either as a mentor or as a mentee.
FOR IN-PERSON ATTENDEES: If you’ll be joining us in Denver, you can sign up by filling out this form. IRE will match mentors with mentees and arrange for them to meet at a breakfast during the conference. The IRE22 mentorship breakfast will be held from 7:45 - 8:45 a.m. on Friday, June 24, at the conference hotel.
Space is limited in this popular program, and the deadline to apply is midnight CT on Sunday, May 22. If the slots are filled before then, your application will be added to a waitlist.
Please also note that you must register for the in-person conference by May 23 in order to participate.
FOR VIRTUAL ATTENDEES: If you can’t make it to Denver this year but still want to find a mentor, please check out the IRE page at JournalismMentors.com, where you can set up a time to meet virtually with an IRE member mentor.
Tom Torok, 73, a lifelong journalist and a respected mentor to many long-time members of Investigative Reporters & Editors, died March 6, 2022, at Virtua/Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, after a short illness.
A retired New York Times projects editor, Torok created and managed the paper’s data journalism team, which helped the paper win eight Pulitzer Prizes during his 13-year tenure.
Earlier, he was a columnist and reporter for 18 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was part of four teams that were Pulitzer-Prize finalists, three for the Public Service award, the Pulitzer’s highest honor.
He also served in various capacities at five other daily newspapers.
A pioneer in making databases available for Web-based searching by anyone in the newsroom, Torok for years was one of the most sought-out panelists at NICAR’s annual conferences. He worked with IRE member Derek Willis to open source a program he called “shboom” that, through a series of pulldowns and clicks, could make a database web-searchable quickly.
“It's very difficult to overstate how much of an impression this made on us when we first saw it in action,” Willis tweeted after learning of Torok’s death.
Torok later pioneered applications to turn free text into searchable data.
He was an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for nine years and at Rowan University for three years. Most recently, he was an associate professor at American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he taught investigative reporting.
He lectured at a number of US universities and colleges and to thousands of students and journalists in Eastern Europe and Siberia. He traveled and met with journalists regularly in Kyiv, and was a member of the supervisory board at the Center for Investigative Reporting in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. In the weeks before his death, he spent time trying to help friends he met there.
In one of his last Facebook posts, on Feb. 24, he wrote of his connections with Ukrainian journalists. “I hope in my small way I've imparted knowledge and motivation for them to continue to pursue and convey the truth.”
He attended graduate school as a Danforth Fellow at the University of Colorado, where he gave up a free Ph.D. to pursue a career in journalism, a decision he said he never regretted. He graduated from Florida State University, summa cum laude with honors, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Psi Chi.
An airman with the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970, Torok served in Texas, Colorado, Florida, South Korea and Japan. He was the first person in the Air Force to max a proficiency test on the weapons system for the F4 Phantom fighter jet.
He graduated (just barely, he said) in 1966 from Carteret High School in Carteret, NJ, where he held and may still hold the record for riding in a commercial clothes dryer.
Since retiring, he was an usher for the now-defunct Camden Riversharks, a minor-league baseball team; a docent for the National Constitution Center, a guide for the Independence National Historical Park; and, most recently, a docent for the Mutter Museum. There, he enjoyed greeting guests with a smile and a wink and whispering: "I see dead people."
He is survived by his wife Cecelia Lentini Torok; a daughter, Elena Torok of Dallas; a son, Stephen Torok (Sarah Taylor) of Manhattan; a sister, Arlene Geise, of Miami; nieces and a nephew; and a former wife, Lena Maria Cooper, of Fletcher, NC.
Relatives and friends are invited to gather on Saturday, March 12, 2022 from 1-3 PM at the Falco/Caruso & Leonard Pennsauken Funeral Home, 6600 N. Browning Road, Pennsauken, N.J., where a memorial service will be held at 3 PM. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to N-Ost, a non-profit investigative journalism organization working in support of their colleagues in Ukraine. Please note in the comments section that your donation is in memory of Tom Torok.
Thirteen newsrooms have been chosen to receive custom watchdog training in the coming year through IRE’s Total Newsroom Training program.
TNT provides two days of intensive, in-house training for small and medium-sized newsrooms dedicated to watchdog journalism. This is the eighth year IRE has offered the free program, which is supported through a grant.
TNT newsroom training is customized and includes two days of sessions ranging from public records battles to hands-on data analysis.
The newsrooms were chosen from more than 50 applications this year.
"Watchdog reporting is the heart and soul of journalism and IRE is excited to bring back the TNT sessions that focus on those skills to newsrooms across the country," IRE Executive Director Diana R. Fuentes said. "From Seattle to El Paso to Louisville, Kentucky, and nearly a dozen points in between, we are proud of the diversity of journalists that will be receiving this cutting-edge training. We believe the communities they serve will see the benefits for a long time to come."
Congratulations to the winning newsrooms:
The Beacon (Kansas City Beacon/Wichita Beacon) (Missouri/Kansas)
El Paso Matters (El Paso, TX)
The Forward (Nationwide)
Futuro Media (Nationwide)
Injustice Watch (Chicago, IL)
KNKX (Seattle/Tacoma, WA)
KREM 2 (Spokane, WA/Coeur d’Alene, ID)
KTXL/FOX40 (Sacramento, CA)
Mountain State Spotlight (Charleston, WV)
Scalawag Magazine (Southern U.S.)
Spectrum News 1 Kentucky (Louisville, KY)
Taos News (Taos, NM)
WGLT/WCBU (Peoria, IL & Bloomington-Normal, IL)
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