Awards

2011 IRE Award winners

Honoring the best in investigative journalism

The annual IRE Awards recognize outstanding investigative work and help identify the techniques and resources used to complete each story. Entries are placed in the IRE Resource Center, allowing members to learn from each other. The IRE Awards were established in 1979. Winners from other years can be found on the winners page.

This year's awards were presented at the 2012 IRE Conference in Boston. Read IRE's press release about this year's awards. Or, watch the 2011 IRE Award winners video, presented at the 2012 IRE Awards luncheon on June 16, 2012. 

IRE MEDALS

The highest honor IRE can bestow for investigative reporting is the IRE Medal. This year's medal winners are:

"Constable Corruption" KTRK - TV ABC - 13 Houston. Wayne Dolcefino, Kevin Hirten and Colin McIntyre. (Category: Broadcast/Video – Medium) Read/watch the online story here.

"On Shaky Ground" California Watch and KQED San Francisco. Corey G. Johnson, Erica Perez, Kendall Taggart, Agustin Armendariz, Michael Montgomery, Anna Werner, Chase Davis, Michael Corey, Carrie Ching, Ashley Alvarado, Krissy Clark. (Category: Multiplatform – Medium) Read the online story here.

 

Judges’ Comments:

  • "Constable Corruption" In this textbook IRE investigation done in a nontraditional style, KTRK-TV went after Houston-area law enforcement officials. Plowing through mountains of paperwork, data and sources, reporter Wayne Dolcefino and his team exposed a culture of corruption among the county’s entrenched constables that included appropriating charity and campaign funds for their own use and allowing employees to commit time sheet fraud. Dolcefino engages the viewer with his irreverent style and high production values, but beneath the entertainment is a rock-solid, water-tight, well-documented investigation. The station made extensive use of FOIA and fought back hard when denied. Its online presentation engaged the reader to follow the investigators as they pursued their targets. Several outside agencies are now investigating several constables offices. For the dogged and difficult pursuit of corruption in its own hometown, KTRK’S “Constable Corruption” is awarded IRE’s highest honor, an IRE Medal.
  • "On Shaky Ground"  “On Shaky Ground” was an extraordinary effort examining seismic safeguards in place to protect California’s schoolchildren from earthquakes. Reporters dug through more than 30,000 pages of documents, created online maps and databases and visited schools throughout the state to get the story. It took 19 months, but the reporters found California officials abrogated their oversight duties and allowed more than 42,000 children to attend schools with serious safety issues. The project had astonishing breadth, depth and creativity. The stories were published in more than 150 news outlets and translated into four languages, and video segments appeared in every major California media market. California Watch created an iPhone app to show local residents their proximity to fault zones and even a coloring book explaining it all to schoolchildren. The hard work paid off: State lawmakers ordered audits and investigations, and new state standards were created to allow schools to more easily tap into a fund to repair seismic hazards. For its commitment to public service, use of documents and computer analysis, and its focus on reader engagement and interactivity, “On Shaky Ground” is awarded IRE’s highest honor, an IRE Medal.

IRE changed its categories this year to better reflect the trends of a changing industry. Click the links below to view the winners and finalists.

Print/Online | Multiplatform | Broadcast/Video | Radio/Audio | Student

Breaking News | Books

SPECIAL AWARDS

Medals are also awarded to winners of two special award categories:

TOM RENNER AWARD

Judges’ Comments: CNN’s team faced great personal risk in crossing the dangerous badlands of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to expose a network of human trafficking and organ sales in “Death in the Desert.” The team managed to persuade the hostile, clannish Bedouin tribesmen of the region to talk about their organized kidnapping for ransom and trafficking in African immigrants trying to cross from Egypt into Israel. The team also procured photographic evidence, reviewed by coroners, that suggested some immigrants had their organs harvested before being buried in the desert. The final scene of nameless immigrants buried in unmarked graves almost within sight of their final destination in Israel provided an emotional finish to a dramatic, difficult and important story.

Finalists:

FOI AWARD

Judges’ Comments: This is accountability reporting at its best. In the wake of the near collapse of the nation’s financial system, Bloomberg News sought important records from the Federal Reserve about loans made to some of the nation’s biggest banks. The Federal Reserve refused, and Bloomberg sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to overturn the lower court’s decision. IRE commends Bloomberg News for its efforts to provide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most powerful and secretive industries in American society.

Finalists:

 

AN IRE SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD FOR “SERVICE TO THE FIRST AMENDMENT”

Judges’ Comments: For its superb and fair coverage and its rigorous editorial advocacy, The Salt Lake Tribune receives an IRE Special Recognition Award for “Service to the First Amendment.” The paper waged and won a battle over the Utah legislature’s attempt to eviscerate Utah’s open records law and citizens’ rights to know. Lawmakers introduced and passed a bill late in the legislative session without much notice. But the paper fought back in two months of coverage on the content and impact of the bill. It offered its content to other newspapers around the state, and in a rare and unusual move ran strong editorials on the front page. Despite the governor’s initial signing of the bill, the paper’s efforts and public outcry forced him to reverse his position and call the legislature back into session. For extraordinary effort by newspaper managers and staff, IRE offers it congratulations and awards special recognition

 


 

IRE 2011 AWARD WINNERS AND FINALISTS BY CATEGORY:

 

PRINT/ONLINE

PRINT/ONLINE - SMALL

Judges’ Comments: In “Unfit for Duty,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune exposed questionable backgrounds of hundreds of Florida police officers. Backed by database analysis and on-the-ground reporting, investigations editor Matthew Doig and crime beat reporter Anthony Cormier joined forces to find nearly one in 20 active law enforcement officers had egregious cases of misconduct but still managed to keep their badges. The newspaper’s story prompted results even before the story ran. Florida’s governor ordered an inquiry into violations of law uncovered by the reporters, and two police officers became targets of an investigation. For exposing lack of police oversight that allowed a cadre of rogue cops to work in cities and towns throughout the state, IRE honors the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Finalists:

 

PRINT/ONLINE - MEDIUM

Judges’ Comments: Scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of documents and customized databases left no doubt the decision by the state of Washington to use methadone as a narcotic pain killer was discriminatory and dangerous. Despite fierce opposition from officials, the paper was able to prove in a 10-month investigation that more than 2,000 people overdosed on the cheap but unpredictable drug the state was pushing to save money. Through exhaustive cross-referencing and shoe leather reporting, the paper showed that while 8 percent of poor adults were on Medicaid, they represented 48 percent of the methadone deaths. In swift reaction to the story, the state issued an emergency health advisory to more than 1,000 pharmacists and 17,000 licensed health care professionals, warning of methadone’s risk. For saving lives, IRE honors The Seattle Times and all the people who worked on that story.

Finalists:

 

PRINT/ONLINE - LARGE

Judges’ Comments: “Assault on Learning" is local reporting at its highest level. We all know anecdotally that urban schools are tough places to survive, let alone learn, but reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer went so much further in quantifying the violence and personalizing it in an irrefutable way. The Inquirer demonstrated the school system under-reported violent incidents and routinely failed to protect teachers and students. An intervention program was unmasked as nothing more than paper-shuffling. Following the project, the district has established a new protocol for reporting serious incidents and crime. For putting five reporters on this project for more than year, for overcoming the obstacles of closed environments and sealed records, and for putting a face on a violent school system and its victims, IRE honors The Inquirer for exemplary investigative work.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM

MULTIPLATFORM - SMALL

No Award

 

MULTIPLATFORM - MEDIUM

  • "On Shaky Ground" California Watch and KQED, San Francisco.
    Corey G. Johnson, Erica Perez, Kendall Taggart, Agustin Armendariz, Michael Montgomery, Anna Werner, Chase Davis, Michael Corey, Carrie Ching, Ashley Alvarado, Krissy Clark. Read the online story here.

    Judges’ Comments:
    “On Shaky Ground” was an extraordinary effort examining seismic safeguards in place to protect California’s schoolchildren from earthquakes. Reporters dug through more than 30,000 pages of documents, created online maps and databases and visited schools throughout the state to get the story. It took 19 months, but the reporters found California officials abrogated their oversight duties and allowed more than 42,000 children to attend schools with serious safety issues. The project had astonishing breadth, depth and creativity. The stories were published in more than 150 news outlets and translated into four languages, and video segments appeared in every major California media market. California Watch created an iPhone app to show local residents their proximity to fault zones and even a coloring book explaining it all to schoolchildren. The hard work paid off: State lawmakers ordered audits and investigations, and new state standards were created to allow schools to more easily tap into a fund to repair seismic hazards. For its commitment to public service, use of documents and computer analysis, and its focus on reader engagement and interactivity, “On Shaky Ground” is awarded IRE’s highest honor, an IRE Medal.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM - LARGE

  • "Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America" ProPublica, NPR, Frontline (PBS)
    ProPublica: A.C. Thompson, Chisun Lee, Marshall Allen, Aarti Shahani, Mosi Secret, Krista Kjellman Schmidt, Al Shaw, Jennifer LaFleur and Robin Fields.
    NPR: Joe Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett, Coburn Dukeheart, John Poole and Susanne Reber.
    Frontline: Lowell Bergman (University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism), Carl Byker, Andres Cediel, Arun Rath, Raney Aronson-Rath and David Fanning.
    Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism: Ryan Gabrielson. Read the online story here.

Judges’ Comments: Most Americans believe the nation’s morgues are filled with dedicated professionals who are equipped with high-tech, state-of-the-art tools and spend whatever time it takes to solve suspicious deaths and bring criminals to justice. ProPublica, NPR and Frontline showed us death investigations are a patchwork of different systems that bear little resemblance to the work seen on television shows such as “CSI.” Through this revealing multimedia package, we learned death investigations are often flawed and innocent people go to jail or the guilty are allowed to go free. For its hard-driving investigation into this little-understood part of the criminal justice system, IRE honors “Death Investigation in America.”

Finalists:

  • "Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities"—The Center for Public Integrity, Jim Morris, Chris Hamby, Ronnie Greene, Elizabeth Lucas, Emma Schwartz, Corbin Hiar, Kristen Lombardi, Cole Goins, Ajani Winston, Sarah Whitmire, Erik Lincoln, Devorah Adler, Rachael Marucs, Paul Abowd, Alexandra Duszak, David Donald, Keith Epstein. NPR, Howard Berkes, Sandra Bartlett, Elizabeth Shogren, Robert Benincasa, John Poole, david Gilkey, Alicia Cypress, Nelson Hsu, Barbara Van Woerkom, Quinn Ford, Susanne Reber. Read the online story here.
  • "Pension Games"—Chicago Tribune, Jason Grotto, Ray Long, Jodi Cohen, Marsha Bartel, Mark Suppelsa. Read the online story here.
  • "Solving a 1964 Cold case: Mystery of Frank Morris"—Center for Investigative Reporting, Stanley Nelson, David Ridgen, Center for Investigatiave Reporting, The Civil Rights Cold Case Project, Susanne Reber, Hank Klibanoff, David Paperny, Carrie Ching and Canadian Broadcasting Company. Read the online story here.
  • "Scout’s Honour"—CBC News, Diana Swain, Timothy Sawa, Angela Gilbert, Amber Hildebrandt, Stacy Cardigan Smith, Curt Petrovich, Lily Boisson, Samantha Lash. The Los Angeles Times, Jason Felch, Kim Christensen. Read the online story here.

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO

BROADCAST/VIDEO - SMALL

Judges’ Comments: A powerful sheriff and a businessman pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges after Lee Zurik and the WVUE-TV team exposed and detailed their intricate scheme to defraud taxpayers. Through public records requests and scrutiny of thousands of pages of documents, the team built spreadsheets that proved how a local sheriff spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from his donors on a lavish lifestyle, falsified campaign documents and profited from the BP oil spill. Congratulations to WVUE-TV for its eight-month rolling investigation and its stick-to-it attitude, which resulted in even bigger stories as the station continued to dig.

Finalists:

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO - MEDIUM

Judges’ Comments: In this textbook IRE investigation done in a nontraditional style, KTRK-TV went after Houston-area law enforcement officials. Plowing through mountains of paperwork, data and sources, reporter Wayne Dolcefino and his team exposed a culture of corruption among the county’s entrenched constables that included appropriating charity and campaign funds for their own use and allowing employees to commit time sheet fraud. Dolcefino engages the viewer with his irreverent style and high production values, but beneath the entertainment is a rock-solid, water-tight, well-documented investigation. The station made extensive use of FOIA and fought back hard when denied. Its online presentation engaged the reader to follow the investigators as they pursued their targets. Several outside agencies are now investigating several constables offices. For the dogged and difficult pursuit of corruption in its own hometown, KTRK’S “Constable Corruption” is awarded IRE’s highest honor, an IRE Medal.

Finalists:

 

 BROADCAST VIDEO - LARGE

Judges’ Comments: ABC News had a hard-hitting report on the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. After 10 months of work, it revealed a shocking story of hundreds of Peace Corps women being raped around the world. This report by Brian Ross and the ABC investigative team was in large part responsible for a new law, named after the victim in the ABC report, which is meant to protect Peace Corps volunteers and whistleblowers. Using internal Peace Corps reports ABC was able to show a systematic failure within the agency and its practice of “hushing things up” and “blaming the victim.” ABC not only found many victims but also persuaded them to go public. IRE commends Ross and Producer Anna Schecter for their on-the-ground investigation in Benin, West Africa, and honors them for their 20-plus followup stories and a very tough interview with the Peace Corps.

Finalists:

 

RADIO/AUDIO

Judges’ Comments: When a worker at a California psychiatric hospital was murdered by a patient last year, NPR reporter Ina Jaffe began looking into what appeared to be cases of rising violence against health care workers. The resulting reports showed that the death was not an isolated incident. In fact, NPR found widespread violence against workers by patients who were committed by the criminal justice system. But the reporting went beyond simply showing cases of assault: It linked the rise in violence to government policies and inaction by psychiatric hospitals, which rarely forwarded cases to the district attorneys for prosecution. The attention brought to this issue led to the passage of a bill to make it easier to medicate patients and the introduction of 2 other measures, one that could keep drug users, who plead not guilty by reason of insanity, out of the facilities and another that would make it a felony for certain patients to assault hospital staff. The judges commend NPR for covering new ground on an important subject and helping keep a spotlight on a continuing problem in the mental health system—how to treat and house patients who are dangerous and mentally ill. 

Finalists:

 

STUDENT

Judges’ Comments: Three student reporters took on powerful Texas Tech University alumni over a sweetheart deal to build and then lease back to the university a parking garage that wasn’t needed. Their investigation probably saved the university $1 million. The student reporters got the state’s attorney general involved in forcing documents to be released under the Texas Public Information Act. They also used emails, tax records and other documents to show the cozy relationship between members of the same fraternity who built an unnecessary private parking garage and then leased it back under a contract that put the burden of renting the spaces on Texas Tech and its alumni association. The students showed great initiative and stood their ground in the face of public criticism of their reporting. For using that criticism to dig even deeper, IRE honors The Daily Toreador and its student journalists.

Finalists:

 

BREAKING NEWS

Judges’ Comments: The Palm Beach Post raced the clock and the competition to unearth compelling details in the deaths of two children whose bodies were fished out of a South Florida canal. Reporters LaForgia, Roldan and Playford were able to flesh out details about the suspect and victims within days of the crime. Playford uncovered key court documents 30 minutes before the courthouse closed and, using his iPhone, snapped pictures of hundreds of pages of documents as clerks were shoving him out the door. The records showed how officials should and could have done more to protect the children from the violent felon who was engaged to their mother. IRE chose this entry as an exemplary case of how investigative reporters can dig deeply on deadline, and in this case their rapid-fire enterprise work revealed flaws in Florida’s child welfare system.

Finalists:

 

BOOK

Judges’ Comments: Author Jason Berry delves deeply into a topic few have examined – the secretive finances of the Roman Catholic Church. Using voluminous background research that takes the reader back centuries, Berry uncovers abuses of the trust of church members by influential bishops who diverted funds intended for philanthropic purposes into accounts used for plugging Vatican operating deficits or defending priests accused of pedophilia. Berry details how the modern church is systematically closing churches in poorer parishes while at the same time opening churches in affluent suburbs where the weekly “take” is greater. The author makes extensive use of public documents, leaked parish records, trial transcripts, interviews and a wide range of published reporting to paint a complete picture of a heretofore secret network of church financial dealings. For shining a bright light on the shenanigans and inner workings of the Catholic Church, IRE honors Jason Berry and “Render Unto Rome”.

Finalists: