Investigative Reporters and Editors has named its finalists for the 2023 Golden Padlock Award honoring the most secretive public agency or official in the U.S.
This year’s award marks a decade of celebrating the best of government opaqueness with four new finalists chosen from a competitive field of nominees. Each of them champions the highest principles of bureaucratic intransigence through techniques that include imposing interminable delays for accessing records, demanding exorbitant fees, launching court challenges blocking public access to records and destroying vital public information and evidence detailing the actions of government officials.
"Reaching the highest levels of government secrecy requires fearlessness in doing whatever it takes to keep citizens in the dark," said Golden Padlock committee chair Robert Cribb. "These elite-level players have distinguished themselves through extraordinary commitment to information suppression."
The finalists for the 2023 Golden Padlock Award are:
The winner of the 2023 Golden Padlock Award will be announced during the awards luncheon at the IRE conference on Saturday, June 24, in Orlando.
We're gearing up to start planning for AccessFest23, and we would love to hear your ideas!
AccessFest is the newly expanded version of our fall conference, the DBEI Symposium. IRE's third annual, virtual-by-design event will still center on themes of inclusion, equity and belonging in newsrooms and in news coverage but we're broadening the scope to include more sessions and topics. You'll also see panels and data classes that mirror sessions you’d typically see at the NICAR and IRE conferences. Our goal is to make IRE training more accessible for everyone!
If you have ideas about what we should include in the line-up this year, we want to hear from you. Your input helps ensure that we’re providing programming that meets your needs and the needs of your newsrooms.
Here are a few ways you can use the ideas form:
Have several ideas? Great! Fill out the form as many times as you’d like. And help us spread the word by sharing this form with friends, colleagues, Slack channels, etc.
Keep in mind that IRE retains editorial control over the content of its conferences. If we can use your idea, our team will be in touch to discuss details. Please direct questions to email@example.com.
Today, the IRE Board of Directors issued the following statement:
IRE is committed to maintaining a safe environment where all our members can learn and be supported professionally. We believe all discrimination is damaging, including discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
In advance of the 2023 IRE Conference in Orlando, some of our members have expressed concern about their safety, especially in light of new legislation in Florida aimed at the LGBTQ+ community passed this year.
We want to reiterate that we will do everything we can to ensure all attendees are supported and protected. If anybody feels unsafe during the conference, they should seek out an IRE staff member or board member for assistance. They are there to help. IRE also has a Code of Conduct to address complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior. We encourage members to reach out to the IRE board or executive director with further questions. Please review the organization’s recent DEI initiatives for additional details.
There are LGBTQ+ journalists in Florida who are IRE members, colleagues and friends – and we support them. We will be there in Orlando to do just that. We will be more than 1,000 strong in Orlando, and we are proud to show where we stand – for the LGBTQ+ community and journalists everywhere.
Have a great idea for an investigative reporting project? We want to help!
IRE has two amazing fellowship opportunities coming up: Our Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship and our Freelance Fellowship.
The Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship is a year-long program, filled with numerous training and networking opportunities, mentorship, access to IRE’s data services and support to help you pursue an investigative project that benefits your community. Fellows receive complimentary entry to IRE’s data journalism bootcamp, the NICAR conference, the IRE conference, as well as travel and hotel stipends to help you attend all these events!
Our 2020 fellow Sameea Kamal shared how this fellowship was transformative in her career.
“There are so many journalists of color who haven’t had access to trainings, mentors or simply the byline opportunities that this fellowship offers,” Kamal said. “It provided me the ability to take journalism trainings I may not have been able to prioritize financially on my own – as well as that commitment to using it for a specific story.”
This fellowship is open to all U.S. journalists of color, who have at least three years of post-college work experience. It was created to help you foster a solid career in investigative reporting, and to increase the range of backgrounds and experiences within the field of investigative journalism, where diverse perspectives are critically important.
The Freelance Fellowship offers financial assistance to independent journalists ready to pursue an investigative reporting project.
Our previous fellows have chased stories on a range of topics, investigating hazardous Superfund sites in New Jersey, heat-related worker deaths in Texas, the Kingston coal ash spill in Tennessee and fertility fraud cases in California.
This year, IRE has three fellowships to offer, with the following cash awards:
IRE judges award fellowships for project proposals which demonstrate impact, breadth and significance. Proposals that deal with whistleblowers, business ethics or privacy issues will be given priority.
This fellowship is intended to support work that will be published in the U.S. and in outlets where the primary audience will be members of the American public.
Applications for both fellowships are now open.
Aug. 28, 2023: Freelance Fellowship applications are due.
Oct. 5, 2023: Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship applications are due.
Questions about the fellowships can be addressed to Anna López, director of partnerships, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are still open for two IRE fellowships to help you attend Data Journalism Bootcamp.
The bootcamp will be Aug. 7-11, 2023, in Columbia, Missouri. The five-day course is a great way to get a broad foundation in data skills – including navigating spreadsheets, SQL and public records – and IRE can help you get there with the following fellowships:
Both fellowships offer complimentary entry into bootcamp, as well as a travel stipend. The deadline to apply is Monday, May 8, 2023.
April 7, 2023
Contact: Executive Director Diana Fuentes, email@example.com
Investigative Reporters and Editors is profoundly disturbed by the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by Russian authorities.
Gershkovich is an experienced U.S. journalist assigned to cover important topics like Russian politics, the country's economy and the war in Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal has flatly denied the allegations leveled against Gershkovich and has emphasized that he was in Russia on assignment, reporting the news for the public.
"Arresting a journalist for doing his job is an intimidation tactic of the worst kind," said IRE President Mark Walker. "It's what authoritarian regimes do when the spotlight of truth starts shining too brightly. Like the Wall Street Journal and fellow journalism organizations, IRE stands in solidarity with Evan and urges his immediate release."
“The winners of the 2022 IRE Awards reflect the undeniable tenacity of journalists working day in and day out to hold powerful people and systems accountable,” said Barbara Rodriguez, chair of the IRE Awards contest committee. “Through a combination of narrative storytelling, data and compelling visuals, many of the entries this year put a spotlight on the lives of everyday people and showed the public the high stakes of policy choices on those lives. This year we also saw newsrooms fight hard to uncover information that some officials attempted to keep hidden. There were also efforts to keep journalists safe in dangerous conditions — and honor their legacy posthumously. Congratulations to the winners and finalists.”
This year’s winners were selected from more than 400 entries. The awards, given since 1979, recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 19 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.
Judges’ comments: For its steadfast efforts to protect the sources of investigative reporter Jeff German, The Las Vegas Review-Journal receives an IRE Special Citation. Soon after German’s shocking slaying in September 2022, the management and staff of the Review-Journal began taking legal action, including a court order, to stop law enforcement and others from searching the reporter’s personal devices that could reveal confidential sources and put them at risk of retaliation. As part of an ongoing legal battle, the Review-Journal has valiantly argued in court filings that the information kept on German’s devices are protected under Nevada’s shield law, the First Amendment and the state constitution. For their efforts to protect press freedom that has ramifications beyond their newsroom, IRE honors the Las Vegas Review-Journal with a special citation.
“Foreign Servants,” The Washington Post, Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones
Judges’ comments: Judges commended this piece for its adherence to the but/for component of investigative reporting: but for the successful use of FOIA in the reporting from beginning to end, the facts this story uncovered would not have come to light. It’s a revelatory investigation that gave a lot of context as well as implications for national security. Whitlock and Jones were able to show information the average person could likely never otherwise have come across.
- “The Uvalde school shooting and the fight for transparency,” The Texas Tribune, ProPublica, The Washington Post
Judges' comments: In the face of repeated denials from public entities on more than 100 requests for information, this team of journalists worked other sources to find data that helped uncover why the law enforcement response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was such a failure.
- “Invisible Schools,” The Seattle Times and ProPublica
Judges’ comments: The filing of 80+ public records requests showed an exhaustive search for the truth. Judges commend the work that resulted in a proposal to expand oversight by the state.
“Putin's Attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes,” The Associated Press and FRONTLINE, Erika Kinetz, Tom Jennings, Sasha Stashevskiy, Annie Wong, Vasilisa Stepanenko, Michael Biesecker, Beatrice DuPuy, Sarah El Deeb
With contributors: Sharon Lynch, Carla Borras, Anthony DeLorenzo, Dan Nolan, Richard Lardner, Helen Wieffering, Larry Fenn, Jason Dearen, Priyanka Boghani, Aasma Mojiz, Miles Alvord, Joshua Goodman, Juliet Linderman, Taras Lazer, Maddie Kornfield, Adam Pemble, Allen Breed, Solamiia Hera, Janine Graham
Judges’ comments: Extraordinary reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that painstakingly documented visual evidence of war crimes and told heartbreaking stories about those impacted by those crimes. Under dangerous conditions, this team of journalists created an interactive database and provided on-the-ground reporting in real-time, often from witnesses to these atrocities. The coverage, both poignant and emotional, shed light on likely violations of international humanitarian law and the laws of war.
- “Cocaine Express: How global shipping gave new life to the drug trade,” Bloomberg News
Judges' comments: A thorough investigation into a cocaine trafficking boom that’s become intertwined with the ocean shipping industry, and how the industry has avoided serious penalties.
- “How a Chinese American Gangster Transformed Money Laundering for Drug Cartels,” and “The Globetrotting Con Man and Suspected Spy Who Met With President Trump,” ProPublica
Judges’ comments: A revealing examination of a new system of money laundering in the Americas involving Chinese organized crime, Latin American drug cartels, and Chinese officials that is raising important geopolitical questions.
“The Price Kids Pay,” Chicago Tribune and ProPublica, Jennifer Smith Richards, Chicago Tribune, Jodi S. Cohen, ProPublica, Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune
Judges’ comments: Even though state law forbids schools from fining students for misbehavior, towns and cities across Illinois are levying monetary penalties for hallway fights, truancy, vaping and smoking, and other minor offenses. Worse, justice is uneven, Black students were twice as likely to be ticketed as their white peers. ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune documented these findings by creating a unique database built on hundreds of records requests and painstaking analysis, as well as shoe leather reporting and creative storytelling techniques.
- “Death Sentence,” STAT
Judges' comments: STAT used public records requests to pry data from reluctant prison officials. Records showed that to save money, states are refusing to provide treatment to prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C. The story documents the unwillingness to provide treatment to even a fraction of the patients in its care, even when ordered by courts. Instead, prisoners are left to suffer painful, debilitating symptoms; some eventually die from a disease that could be treated with a single –albeit expensive – pill a day.
- “Untold,” ESPN
Judges' comments: In a compelling, hard-to-put-down investigation, ESPN chronicles an infuriating story of how a former Penn State football player was mostly allowed to get away with rape and other sexual assaults. The story also shows that football coach Joe Paterno might well have been aware of the player’s crimes but helped cover them up to protect his program’s reputation.
“Child deaths at John Muir Health,” San Francisco Chronicle, Matthias Gafni, Cynthia Dizikes, Dan Kopf
Judges’ comments: This is a stunning investigation into a California hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit that peeled back layers of an often complicated medical world to reveal serious concerns about the treatment of sick children. By merging hard-to-obtain data with emotional storytelling, journalists told heartbreaking stories of what happened to incredibly sick children and their families at the hands of an ill-equipped hospital.
“Broken Homes,” San Francisco Chronicle, Joaquin Palomino, Trisha Thadani, Scott Strazzante, Lisa Gartner
Judges' comments: Inoperable elevators, rodent infestations, and a patchwork process for evictions. These are among the findings of an investigation that showed glaring systemic failings in how officials in San Francisco shelter its most vulnerable residents in dilapidated hotels. By compiling digestible data for the public and highlighting the difficult stories of impacted residents, journalists renewed attention to how the city is addressing the housing crisis.
- “Medical Parole Got Them Out Of State Prison. Now They're In A Decertified Nursing Home,” KPCC
Judges' comments: A shocking look into how California correctional officials moved severely ill and disabled medical parole patients from around the state to a single facility in Los Angeles with numerous patient care violations. The coverage raised important questions about how a state treats people who are incarcerated and aging.
- “Innocence Sold,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Judges' comments: A startling report on child sex trafficking in Florida, and how gaps in the state’s foster care system, legal system, and hotel industry create more conditions for abuse.
"MIA: Crisis in the Ranks," The Philadelphia Inquirer, David Gambacorta, Barbara Laker, William Bender
Judges’ comments: This investigation was both compelling and outright infuriating, exposing how a growing number of Philadelphia police officers abused a state disability benefit to take leave while the city experienced record levels of gun violence. Reporters combined data analysis with on-the-ground reporting to produce work that had an unmistakable impact. One judge called it “the best kind of investigative reporting” – striking so much fear in the people who need to be held to account that they immediately change their ways.
“Dangerous Dwellings,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Alan Judd, Willoughby Mariano, Johnny Edwards, Jennifer Peebles, Eric Fan, Lois Norder
Judges' comments: This searing exposé gave voice to thousands of residents - mostly people of color - stuck living in horrific conditions at hundreds of persistently dangerous apartment complexes in Atlanta. The scale and scope of this investigation were truly impressive, revealing how state law makes it almost impossible to hold predatory owners to account while they rake in massive federal subsidies. Reporters showed how private equity and other investors are drawn to a business model that has painfully real impacts on how people live.
- “Eavesdropping in Maine Jails,” The Maine Monitor
Judges' comments: An exhaustive investigation revealed a disturbing violation of state law and federal constitutional rights. The Maine Monitor punched above its weight with this series of stories.
“Big Poultry,” The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer, Gavin Off, Adam Wagner, Ames Alexander
Judges’ comments: This series shows in graphic detail the human and environmental cost of the rapid expansion of the poultry industry in North Carolina. The articles also show that the state intentionally keeps its citizens in the dark and fails to protect them from powerful companies that control every aspect of poultry farming. Caught in the middle of this are the contract farmers who are taking on massive debts to build and equip their farms, only to learn that the companies can take away or limit their access to income almost at a whim. In addition to strong reporting based on interviews and limited documentation, the journalists created a unique map showing the locations of virtually every poultry operation in the state, despite state laws that shield their locations.
- “Security for Sale,” The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer
Judges' comments: Judges praised the fact that while this story is very much localized, it’s about a topic with national importance and implications. The investigation found that, in the space of a decade, corporate landlords had gone from owning nearly zero houses in North Carolina to owning more than 40,000. Superb mapping work combined with human narratives made the story both readable and compelling.
“101 East - Forced to Scam: Cambodia’s Cyber Slaves,” Al Jazeera English, Mary Ann Jolley, David Boyle, Shaun Turton
Judges’ comments: This is shocking reporting by a team that put themselves at extraordinary risk to get the story. ‘Cambodia’s Cyber Slaves’ exposed large-scale trafficking, torture, and enslavement inside the country’s massive scam industry, which is connected to the highest levels of government. This piece stood out because of the scope of the issues it raises related to human trafficking. The breadth of the reporting effort was also a key differentiator along with the widespread ramifications and far-reaching impact.
- “Racism for Sale,” BBC Africa Eye and BBC Eye
Judges' comments: Compelling storytelling and reporting on an incredibly important topic. The reporter went to impressive lengths for this story.
“Left for Dead: Hit, Run, and Ignored,” NBC Chicago, Phil Rogers, Alex Maragos, Stefan Holt, Shelby Bremer, Katy Smyser, Nathan Halder, Lauren Stauffer, Akemi Harrison, Frank Whittaker, Kevin Cross, Courtney Copenhagen, Brian Moore, Reed Seiler, Calvin Tyler
Judges’ comments: Incredibly, this investigation found that more than 100 hit-and-run auto accidents occur in Chicago every day, and only a few of them are solved, even when police have evidence that could identify the culprits. The reporters effectively blended data, public records, interviews, and video to tell a compelling story. The station devoted enormous resources to this investigation and persevered despite the Chicago Police Department’s absolute refusal to cooperate.
- “The Sixth,” WANF-TV
Judges' comments: This investigation documents difficulties in public defender programs. Too little money and too few attorneys mean that the requirement of providing lawyers for indigent defendants too often goes unfulfilled. As a result, some accused people languish in jail far longer than they should, while others are released when they are possibly guilty of crimes.
- “DCFS Survivors,” WBBM-TV
Judges' comments: WBBM found that the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services often turns a blind eye to child abuse in foster homes, including physical and sexual abuse. The station was able to pry data from the department showing that 90 percent of complaints about abuse were deemed “unfounded.”
“Disabled & Denied,” WBFF-TV, Carolyn Peirce, Chris Papst, Dwayne Myers, Jed Gamber, Ray Rogowski
Judges’ comments: A moving series of stories that demands answers about the quality of education provided by Baltimore City Schools to some students with disabilities. The team exposed multiple examples of outright corruption, with contractors and the school system both stealing money by falsifying reports, all while hurting kids in the process. The stories combined touching personal narratives with dogged reporting and showed the profound impact that can come from sticking with a story.
- “Fallout,” WKRC-TV
Judges' comments: This was a fine example of persistent work on a highly complicated issue. It’s also a model of local journalism, depending on local sourcing in an undercovered community to expose a problem with international implications.
- "Outside the Office" WVUE-TV
Judges' comments: This story has receipts! The data-gathering was impressive but used the power of video to show the implications behind the numbers.
- “Revealed,” WTVF-TV
Judges' comments: A masterful use of video, giving viewers in Tennessee a front-row seat to the abuses of power taking place in their state legislature. A well-told modern civics lesson with real impact!
“53 Days - Chuck's Story,” WSAZ-TV, Kristen Bentley, Sarah Sager, Joseph Payton, Jay Melvin
Judges’ comments: Superb reporting on how the shortcomings of a West Virginia hospital had deadly consequences for an elderly man with dementia. By obtaining crucial video footage on the day the man disappeared, journalists provided a visual and heartbreaking story to audiences that showed what went wrong. The team was also relentless in seeking answers from top state officials.
“Death By Policy: Crisis in the Arizona Desert,” Futuro Media Group, Julieta Martinelli, Roxanne Scott, Maria Hinojosa, Peniley Ramirez, Mitra Bonshahi
Judges’ comments: This story stood out for its on-the-ground reporting. This moving piece lived up to its title by showing how funneling migrants through environmentally dangerous areas led to their deaths. The team highlighted the border patrol’s attempt to take credit for the work that volunteers are doing. Embedding with the volunteer group in the desert was great reporting under physically difficult conditions.
- “Missing Justice,” CBS News
Judges' comments: This was an effective podcast entry for several reasons: it covers an underreported topic while making good use of audio; it examines the shortcomings in the justice system; and calls for congressional accountability.
“Overlooked,” KCUR Studios and NPR’s Midwest Newsroom, Peggy Lowe, Steve Vockrodt, Dan Margolies, Mackenzie Martin, Suzanne Hogan, CJ Janovy, Lisa Rodriguez, Gabe Rosenberg
Judges’ comments: This is incredibly compelling storytelling on an important and long-overlooked story. The suspenseful storytelling puts the audience in the moment and left us wanting more. Several of the judges mentioned an eagerness to keep listening to discover how this white male police officer exploited Black women in the community – and how he was allowed to do it for decades. This was far and away one of the best entries in the competition!
- “The imbalanced scales of immigration justice: The uphill battle for Cameroonian asylum seekers in Louisiana and Mississippi,” Gulf States Newsroom
Judges' comments: Great reporting from a small newsroom on an angle of the immigration story we hadn’t heard. Good use of a strong character to tell the story.
- “Missouri knew of contamination in Springfield’s groundwater decades before anyone told residents,” St. Louis Public Radio and NPR's Midwest Newsroom
Judges' comments: This reporting included powerful investigative findings on an important issue and uncovered the scope of a problem that went further back than the public knew.
“For two families, a Southern University education meant everything. Then came tragedy.” LSU Manship News Service, Brittany Dunn, Drew Hawkins, Claire Sullivan, Shelly Kleinpeter, Annalise Vidrine, Adrian Dubose, Maria Pham, Allison Allsop, Alex Tirado
Judges' comments: Based on historical records and interviews, this is a sobering account of a deadly encounter between police and students during campus protests at Southern University in 1972, an encounter that left two young Black men dead and their families searching for answers. After 50 years, the questions and the stain remain. The students did an excellent job in recounting this painful event on their campus and its aftermath.
- “Gaslit,” Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism
Judges' comments: Using satellite imagery and other information, this investigation shows that the release of methane gas – by practices known as venting and flaring – from oil and natural gas wells is much larger than industry and government estimates.
- “Mega Billions: The great lottery wealth transfer,” Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and Boston University
Judges' comments: By creatively using mobile phone information and other data, this project shows how state lotteries exploit mostly lower-income people.
"Stanford president's research under investigation," The Stanford Daily, Theo Baker
Judges’ comments: The investigation into allegations of research misconduct by the president of Stanford sparked headlines across the country. That this series of stories was spearheaded by the campus paper would have been impressive on its own. But the 17-year-old, first-quarter freshman behind it deserves extra kudos for pursuing this explosive investigation despite alleged warnings by administration sources that his target could seek retaliation. A doggedly reported investigation with immediate impact, and a masterclass in holding the powerful to account.
“UC Berkeley swimmers allege coach Teri McKeever bullied and verbally abused them for years,” Orange County Register, Scott Reid
Judges’ comments: The Orange County Register painstakingly illuminated the shocking actions of UC Berkeley swim coach, Teri McKeever, an international icon in her field. Her abuses are recorded in revealing on-the-record interviews with frightened, reluctant sources, some of whom spoke about suicidal thoughts and mental health consequences. The paper encountered considerable resistance from the university and other official sources. Ultimately, however, the coach lost her job.
- “Black Out,” The Washington Post
Judges' comments: Unfortunately, the basic fact that there are few Black head coaches in the NFL is well-known. This investigation takes that knowledge to a new level, demonstrating with data and compelling interviews just how difficult it is for a Black coach to get the top job and how incredibly hard it is for them to stay there.
- “Title IX: Falling short at 50,” USA TODAY
Judges' comments: This deeply reported account shows the failure of a 50-year-old federal law intended to bring more gender equity to college sports. The paper and its partners created a unique database showing how universities skirt the law by failing to spend enough money on women’s sports: by miscounting women athletes and denying scholarship opportunities to women. Reporters also exposed the failures of the responsible federal agency to enforce the law.
- “Massacre in Uvalde,” San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle
Judges’ comments: In the immediate aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this team of journalists sprang into action, delivering fast, accurate, and often exclusive breaking news. As multiple newsrooms simultaneously worked to cover one of the biggest stories of the year, staff from the Express-News and the Chronicle stood out for providing readers with an emerging timeline of what happened during the shooting, raising questions early on about law enforcement’s response.
- Russian Asset Tracker, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
Judges' comments: In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, governments around the world imposed sanctions on many of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s enablers, who hired armies of lawyers to hide their wealth in secretive bank accounts and offshore structures. Within four weeks of the start of the war, OCCRP and their partners compiled the largest public listing of verified assets that had taken years for oligarchs to hide.
“When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm,” Walt Bogdanich, Michael Forsythe
Judges' comments: Using tens of thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews, Bogdanich and Forsythe expose the many tentacles of consulting conglomerate McKinsey & Company. Before the journalists' work, little was known about McKinsey's clients that range from pharmaceutical companies to federal drug regulators to foreign governments. The dynamic storytelling kept us turning the page to find whose mess McKinsey was involved in next.
“The Price of Care: Taken by the State,” ABC10, Andie Judson, Gonzalo Magaña, Rory Ward, Tyler Horst, Sabrina Sanchez, Mike Bunnell, Xavier Uriarte
Judges' comments: In a series of five reports, ABC10 Sacramento focused on abuses and neglect of disabled persons by the California state bureaucracy that controls their lives through conservatorships. Through the stories of victims, reporter Andie Judson detailed a system that ignored their interests and isolated them from their families. The reports were part of a two-year investigation by ABC10 widely credited with ensuing reform legislation.
“After Ayotzinapa,” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, National Security Archive, Adonde Media, Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, Kate Doyle, Taki Telonidis, Maria Martinez Castro
Judges' comments: An extraordinary exploration of the forced disappearances of college students in Mexico filled with inside information, public records, critical relationships with sources, clear and compelling storytelling, archive audio, creative approaches, significant results, and a disturbing window into corruption in Mexico fueled by drug cartels. “After Ayotzinapa” is a jaw-dropping chronicle of a horrendous crime and the lengths that Mexican authorities went to cover it up. Through journalistic persistence that spanned years and borders, “After Ayotzinapa” lands like a gut punch, holding powerful Mexican institutions and political figures to account.
“Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong,” American Public Media, Emily Hanford, Christopher Peak, Catherine Winter, Chris Julin, Emily Haavik
Judges' comments: American Public Media presents an extraordinary example of investigative reporting at its best, with extensive use of documents, data, studies, sourcing, accountability, archive audio, and even a survey. The writing is clear and compelling, despite a complicated subject, and the use of archive audio accentuates the storytelling and gives the findings additional heft. The investigation addresses a subject critical to all parents: how do children learn to read, why are so many having difficulty, and why is the system that has been widely accepted failing to do the job for many? The result is a story focused on flaws in the public school system, and deeper questions about the operation and values of schools, and of private companies profiting from education. Emily Hanford’s reporting and presentation are testaments to journalistic and audio storytelling excellence.
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 were:
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.
Applications are now open to participate in the IRE Conference mentorship program, either as a mentor or as a mentee.
If you’ll be joining us in Orlando, 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 IRE23 mentorship — sponsored by Sinclair Broadcast Group —breakfast will be held from 7:45 - 8:45 a.m. on Friday, June 23, at the conference hotel.
Space is limited in this popular program, and the deadline to apply is midnight CT on Sunday, June 4. If the slots are filled before then, your application will be added to a waitlist.
Please also note that you must register for the conference by June 5 in order to participate.
Join Investigative Reporters and Editors for a regional training event in Las Vegas on April 22-23, 2023, the first IRE Jeff German Investigative Workshop.
The workshop honors Jeff German, a longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter who was killed outside his home in Las Vegas on Sept. 2. A county official who was the subject of German’s reporting earlier in the year is charged with murder in German’s death.
This two-day event will be held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Highlighting the extraordinary circumstances of picking up the pieces of an ongoing story when vital material has been seized by police and personal and source emotions are running high, one session will feature several of the late German’s colleagues, including veteran journalist Rhonda Prast and Las Vegas Review-Journal journalists Briana Erickson and Arthur Kane. Other sessions will focus on finding, cultivating and protecting sources; digital security best practices; watchdog story ideas; and public records and data to request for (almost) any beat.
As an add-on to the workshop, Michael Scott Davidson of Newsweek will teach a class introducing Google Sheets on Sunday morning, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The special three-hour, hands-on class would benefit all reporters and editors seeking to learn how to make numbers tell the story. This class requires an additional fee along with workshop registration.
The workshop is co-sponsored by IRE, the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at UNLV and the Las Vegas Review-Journal and is supported by the Jeff German Fund for Investigative Journalism. The fund was established shortly after German’s death through contributions by the Review-Journal and Arnold Ventures along with the IRE Board of Directors and staff as well as more than 100 individual donors from across the country.
The fund helps continue the kind of game-changing investigative reporting that German produced during his more than 40 years as a journalist, primarily for regional newspapers. It provides training at IRE conferences and workshops for journalists working in local and regional news outlets. Donations to the fund can be made at ire.org/donate. Please write “Jeff German” in the message or tribute field.
For questions about registration or general event questions, please contact email@example.com.
Hola everyone! I hope everyone got home safely from the 2023 NICAR Conference and you’re ready to put what you learned to use.
If we didn’t get a chance to meet in Nashville, I am Adam Rhodes, one of IRE’s newer training directors. It was also my first NICAR on staff and my second overall. I couldn’t have asked for a better behind-the-scenes look at what makes the conference (or data prom, depending on who you ask) so special. I wanted to share some of the moments that made it particularly memorable for me.
The first and most significant moment was the LGBTQ+ networking session that I hosted with IRE board member Josh Hinkle on the first night of the conference. It was the third time Josh and I had hosted the session, and each time the crowd gets bigger and better. I was awestruck at how many incredible journalists were in that room, so many that we spilled into the hall.
It was so crucial to hold that space for queer journalists like myself and Josh, especially given the escalating attacks on queer rights around the country, including in Tennessee. Speaking for myself, this session and the connections we all made during it felt like a shield from the world around us — in that room and within the conference, we could feel seen, understood and safe.
This networking session was all the more special with the presence of IRE’s executive director Diana Fuentes. A testament to the organization’s dedication to inclusivity, the executive committee of the IRE board of directors reaffirmed its commitment to LGBTQ+ support and safety in advance of the conference. I’m proud to be part of an organization “committed to serving and supporting all its members and maintaining a safe, discrimination-free organization where everyone can learn and be supported professionally.”
NICAR23 had 962 attendees with 260 student registrations. It was amazing to see so many first-time attendees, too. If you went to the packed first-timers reception or the mentor breakfast, you know what I mean. Now I know why we had to keep refilling the first-timer ribbons during check-in! But jokes aside, in an era where journalism is under attack, all the new faces were a testament to the importance of data journalism and your commitment to it.
In addition to all the tried and true NICAR panels and hands-on classes, this year, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Santos, the first Latinx person to hold the position, joined us for a moderated conversation. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of Phil Meyer’s seminal book, “Precision Journalism.” And we heard from longtime NICARian Meredith Broussard about her new book on “Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech.” There was also a moment of silence to honor slain journalists Jeff German and Dylan Lyons, and we announced longtime NICAR instructors David Donald and Tom Torok would be inducted into the Ring of Honor at IRE23.
There’s too much to highlight in this short recap, but I’ll list a few more things that I loved about the conference in Nashville: the Journalists of Color networking session; the Knight Foundation x Wired Lounge; and the overflowing ballroom for Lightning Talks — some of my favorite talks taught us about the power of Bad Bunny lyrics, mapping an investigation through memes and proper typing posture.
Thank you to all the speakers, mentors and attendees for making NICAR23 a success. Congrats to the Philip Meyer Award winners and conference fellows. Thanks also to the NICAR23 regional planning committee, the exhibitors & recruiters and to our sponsors: ABC News; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri; Google Trends; Knight Foundation; Lumina Foundation; The Paranoids at Yahoo; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Scripps Howard Fund; and The Tennessean in collaboration with the News Sentinel and the Commercial Appeal.
You all helped show this NICAR newbie just what keeps folks coming back to a conference about data every year, and I can’t wait to see how Baltimore tops this one. Gracias por todo, and see you all at the 2023 IRE Conference in Orlando!
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Conference photos taken by IRE editorial director Doug Meigs can be found in this album.
Did you forget to pick up the winning T-shirt? Want a coffee cup to remember your time in Nashville? We’ve got you covered. Check out the NICAR23 swag shop in IRE’s Shopify store.
IRE23 will be in Orlando June 22-25 this year and we’d love to see you again! We’ll be online for IRE’s all-virtual conference, AccessFest, October 12-14 (more details and registration coming soon). NICAR24 will be in Baltimore, March 7-10. Make sure you’re signed up for our biweekly newsletter, Quick Hits, to receive the latest IRE news about conferences, training and other opportunities.
Did NICAR23 spark an idea? Share your thoughts via our open call for NICAR24 pitches.