Awards

2012 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.

The awards were presented at the  2013 IRE Conference in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday, June 22. Read IRE's press release about this year's awards.

IRE MEDALS

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

 “Benghazi: US Consulate Attack,” CNN, Atlanta.
Arwa Damon and Sarmad Qaseera
With contributors: Jill Dougherty, Elise Labott, Tim Lister, Richard T. Griffiths, Tony Maddox, Charlie Moore, Richard Davis and David Vigilante. 
(Category: Investigations Triggered By Breaking News)
Read the online story here.

Judges' Comments: When a militant group overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the death of the ambassador and staffers, initial information was contradictory. CNN correspondent Arwa Damon and photojournalist Sarmad Qaseera arrived quickly in Benghazi to find valuable clues in the wide-open but looted and burned ruins of the consulate. Damon’s stories refuted reports that the attack on the consulate was part of larger anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East. Damon’s courageous reporting showed it appeared to be a planned attack that came after U.S. diplomats had been warned days before by Libyan officials about the deteriorating security there. The network stood firm in the face of harsh criticism from the State Department. The U.S. government’s investigation later proved CNN’s reporting to be accurate. Damon also spoke to Libyans who tried to save the ambassador that night, shedding light on what happened to him during his final hours. Her reporting provided additional valuable context about the milieu in which the consulate attack occurred.

Project Simoom,” Sveriges Radio, Stockholm.
Bo-Göran Bodin, Daniel Öhman and Rolf Stengård. 
(Category: Radio)
See online story here. Download broadcast in English; part one and part two.

Judges' Comments: In a tour de force of journalism enterprise, Swedish Radio News reporters uncovered one of the most secretive projects in Sweden: the illegal financing and construction of an advanced weapons factory in the Saudi Arabian desert in violation of the country’s strict human rights criteria.  Unbeknownst to citizens and the elected officials of Sweden’s Parliament, the country’s Defense Department set up a dummy corporation and used military intelligence cash to hide the government’s complicity in its secret partnership with the Saudi government.  With dogged determination and armed with documents they obtained through various sources, the station peeled away the layers of secrecy. In a gripping storytelling style, the reporters took listeners on their investigative journey as they pursued reluctant sources who confirmed they worked on the project. These reporters stood their ground as the defense minister repeatedly lied about the existence of such a project, even when confronted with the official documents. Their reporting led to the resignation of the defense minister and his staff and the cancellation of the controversial weapons factory project. The judges commend Swedish radio for not only its fine reporting but it’s superb storytelling and production.

SPECIAL AWARDS

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

Tom Renner Award

Judges’ comments: Reporter Brad Heath discovered dozens of men locked up on gun possession charges even though a federal appeals court had concluded they had done no federal crime. Using tips from lawyers, inmates and families, and sifting through thousands of pages of court documents, Heath showed the Justice Department knew the prisoners were innocent of the charges, but made no effort to identify or alert people whose convictions should have been invalidated. Many of the prisoners didn’t realize they were innocent until USA TODAY contacted them. He also found prosecutors were persuading courts to keep sex offenders in prison past the expiration of their sentences based on questionable psychological assessments. Heath’s dogged reporting exposed shortcomings in the criminal justice system and resulted in the release of at least 32 federal prisoners and the end of supervised release for 12 others. IRE commends Heath for digging for the truth to correct an unbelievable breakdown in the justice system.

Finalists:

 

FOI Award

Judges’ comments: For years, Chicago school officials routinely published positive statistics about school attendance. But reporter David Jackson was determined to discover the real situation, and for more than a decade, relentlessly and creatively demanded records from the secretive school board. His findings revealed a crisis in the city’s schools. He showed roughly one in eight of the city’s K-8 students missed a month or more of class per year, while others simply vanished from school. The series exposed a devastating pattern of absenteeism and indifference by city officials who ignored or masked over the problem, and that left kids with time to get into trouble. IRE commends the Tribune team for refusing to take no for an answer and overcoming multiple open records denials.

Finalists:

 

2012 Award winners and finalists by category:

PRINT/ONLINE

PRINT/ONLINE - SMALL

Judges’ comments: This investigation focused a bright light on an outrage in Illinois. The deaths of severely disabled adults being cared for in their own homes were not being investigated by the state agency designed to protect them. Phone calls reporting abuse, neglect and horrific living conditions came into a state hotline, but were often ignored –under the reasoning that they were “ineligible for services.” Facing major roadblocks and government intimidation, George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer persevered to tell heartbreaking tales of Illinois residents who died under terrible circumstances. The stories led to the resignation of the agency’s inspector general, and the governor ordered a revamp of the agency.

Finalists:

 

PRINT/ONLINE - MEDIUM

Judges’ comments: A stunning example of good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting. Reporter Carl Prine got a tip he relentlessly pursued in the face of enormous obstacles and personal peril. Prine, himself a military veteran, spent two years traveling across America and deep into Iraq to prove the story of how a U.S. Army staff sergeant fatally shot two innocent deaf mute Iraqi children and ordered the slaying of their handicapped cousin. The stories also charted an ongoing Army cover-up of the killings, false battlefield decorations and the accused gunman’s promotion. When the subject of the series made threats against the reporter and his wife, Prine wrote about that too. A courageous story and a wonderfully spun tale.

Finalists:

 

PRINT/ONLINE - LARGE

Judges comments: This two-part New York Times series on Wal-Mart’s practices in Mexico drew back the curtain on a corporate giant’s pattern of bribery within its largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. The stories by David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab began with a tip and a handful of documents. Their determined effort eventually led to 600 public records requests in Mexico, producing 100,000 pages of records, and 200 interviews with government officials. Part One revealed how Wal-Mart’s top executives shut down an internal investigation that had found evidence of systemic bribery. Part Two offered an in-depth examination of how the company used bribes to accelerate its growth in Mexico. The stories prompted investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the SEC and Mexican authorities. The stories also spurred the company to conduct an internal investigation that led to findings of potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico, India and China.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM

MULTIPLATFORM - SMALL

Judges’ comments: This partnership is a smart piece of accountability reporting about racial inequality that takes us inside a community through excellent video interviews and writing takes us inside a community. In the stringent enforcement of marijuana use, vehicular noise and other lesser crimes like jaywalking in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., this is a story of living in fear of the police. Though black people comprise only 16 percent of the population, they represent 40 percent of those arrested. The reporters published as they went, presenting a collaborative effort online and a 16-page bilingual supplement distributed in both the Chicago and Champaign-Urbana areas. “Crunch Time” sticks with you.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM - MEDIUM

  • Broken Shield,” California Watch.
    Ryan Gabrielson with contributors: Agustin Armendariz, Monica Lam, Michael Montgomery, Carrie Ching, Joanna Lin, Emily Hartley, Marie McIntosh, Nikki Frick, Christine Lee, Meghann Farnsworth, Cole Goins, Mia Zuckerkandel, La Toya Tooles, Robert Salladay, Mark Katches, Lauren Rabaino, Marina Luz
    Brian Cragin.
    Read online story here.

Judges’ comments: This is not only an important story examining egregious wrongdoing harming some of the most disadvantaged in society. This is a story of possible murder, multiple rapes and abuse all gone initially unreported and unanswered. The reporters left no stone unturned, including how one officer was logging 107 hours a week, every week. It is also an example of tireless digging for data over 18 months and methodology to be admired. As California Watch wrote in its entry, “Many of the victims chronicled by California Watch are so disabled they cannot utter a word. Gabrielson gave them a resounding voice. The series prompted two new laws intended to bring great safeguards and accountability, a criminal investigation, new record keeping and staff retraining, the demotion of a police chief and more.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM - LARGE (TIE)

Judges’ comments: This project featured multiple partners breaking down a complicated subject – campaign finance in the post-Citizens United era – in a simple, entertaining fashion. Big Money 2012 tells a tale of money, politics and intrigue in a remote epicenter of campaign finance, Montana. The investigation led the teams from big sky country to a meth house in Colorado and to a UPS store in D.C. as they followed a trail of documents. What they found exposed the inner-workings of a dark money group. The investigation led to a Montana judicial ruling that Western Tradition Partnership violated the state’s campaign finance laws and the head of the organization resigned.

FRONTLINE personnel: Rick Young, Anthony Szulc, Emma Schwartz, Fritz Kramer, Philip Bennett, Michael Sullivan, Raney Aronson-Rath and David Fanning.

Marketplace personnel: Kai Ryssdal, Megan Larson, Matt Berger, Deborah Clark and J.J. Yore.

ProPublica personnel: Kim Barker, Justin Elliott, Olga Pierce, Lois Beckett, Eric Umansky, Robin Fields and Steve Engelberg.

Judges’ comments: In an investigation that upholds the highest ideals of journalism, CNN digital reporters John D. Sutter and Edythe McNamee gained access to the West African nation of Mauritania to put a human face on the shocking story of modern-day slavery. The country was the last in the world to outlaw slavery, doing so only five years ago. However, only one slave owner has been prosecuted for the practice and the tradition of slavery continues to dehumanize generations of the nation’s citizens. Sutter and McNamee gained access to Mauritania to work on a story about locust swarms. They had to do their reporting on slavery covertly, often in the presence of a government-assigned minder. Their project was published online, accompanied by haunting photos and video. It also ran as a documentary on CNN International and CNN US.  “Slavery’s Last Stronghold” included firsthand accounts from freed and escaped slaves both in Mauritania and in Ohio in the US and one man’s transformative journey from slave owner to abolitionist.

Finalists:

  • "As Mine Protections Fail, Black Lung Cases Surge," National Public Radio, Center for Public Integrity and The Charleston Gazette, Howard Berkes, Andrea de Leon, Sandra Bartlett, Steve Drummond, Alicia Cypress, Alyson Hurt, Coburn Dukehart, Barbara Van Woerkom (NPR); Chris Hamby, Jim Morris, Ellen Weiss, Sarah Whitmire, Ajani Winston (CPI); Ken Ward Jr. and Rob Byers (The Charleston Gazette).
    View online story here.
  • "Revolution to Riches," Bloomberg News, Michael Forsythe, Fan Wenxin, Shai Oster, Dune Lawrence, Natasha Khan, Michael Wei, Yidi Zhao, Henry Sanderson, Neil Western, Peter Hirschberg, Ben Richardson, Melissa Pozsgay, Anne Swardson, Chloe Whiteaker and Phil Kuntz.
    View online story here.
  • "Plunder in the Pacific," The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, IDL-Reporteros (Peru), CIPER (Chile) and tve (UK), Gerard Ryle, Mort Rosenblum, Mar Cabra, Milagros Salazar, Juan Pablo Figueroa Lasch, Irene Jay Liu, Steve Bradshaw, Roman Anin, Nicky Hager, Joop Bouma, Kate Willson, Miguel López Chauca, Marina Walker Guevara and David Donald.
    View online story here.

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO

BROADCAST/VIDEO - SMALL

Judge’s comments: This hour-long documentary is a stunning compilation of a two-year investigation into how political corruption is destroying East St. Louis, Ill. Reporter Craig Cheatham’s dogged reporting and hard-hitting questions appear to get inside the minds of hardened politicos who admit to him their wrongdoing. As part of a remarkable volume of reporting, Cheatham shows how politicians are connected to slumlords who own some of the worst housing in the region. The documentary finishes by exposing how certain tax breaks allow vice-driven businesses like strip clubs and a casino to flourish while not providing needed jobs. Well shot and finely written, the reporting resulted in the resignation of a police chief from two different jurisdictions as well as criminal charges and investigations against the slumlords.

Finalists:

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO - MEDIUM

Judges’ comments: “Unfair Game” showed how Texas high school coaches and administrators openly flouted the rules and helped students transfer school districts to assemble state championship-caliber athletic teams. The stories graphically showed how improper recruiting helped Dallas' Kimball Knights build back-to-back state championship basketball teams, and how former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders' new school, Prime Prep Academy, drew in blue-chip players against the rules. Because public records were sparse, reporter Brett Shipp used an inventive combination of social media and dogged reporting to show how high school athletics had been transformed into a business in which the best players were lured away from their neighborhood schools and sometimes across state lines. Results included the firing of one coach and an internal investigation that concluded the Dallas district had violated state rules.

Finalists:

  • "Fraud on the Job," KING-Seattle, Susannah Frame, Steve Douglas, Kellie Cheadle and Mark Ginther.
    View online story here.
  • "Behind the Gates of the Guard,” NBC Bay Area & KNBC-Los Angeles, Tony Kovaleski (Bay Area), Joel Grover (KNBC), Chris Henao (KNBC), Elizabeth Wagner (Bay Area), Phil Drechsler (KNBC), Felipe Escamilla (Bay Area) and Matt Goldberg (Bay Area).
    View online stories here, here, here and here.
  • "Investigating The Fire," KMGH-Denver, Amanda Kost, Marshall Zelinger, Jon Stone, Doug Schepman, Jennifer Castor, Jason Foster, Brad Bogott, James Dougherty, Anne Trujillo, Mike Landess, Mark Montour-Larson, Katie Strickland, Jeff Harris and Byron Grandy.
    View online story here.
  • "Denticaid: Medicaid Dental Abuse in Texas,” WFAA-Dallas-Fort Worth, Byron Harris, Billy Bryant, Jason Trahan and Mark Smith.
    View online story here. And the follow-up here.

 

 BROADCAST VIDEO - LARGE

  • "Rápido y Furioso" ("Fast & Furious"), Aquí y Ahora de Univision (the newsmagazine “Here and Now”). 
    Director: Gerardo Reyes, Daniel Coronell, Jairo Marin, Maria Henao, Keith Summa Producers: Margarita Rabin; Tomas Ocaña Urwitz, Jeanette Casal Miranda; Vytenis Didzulis; Casto Ocando; Reporters: Jorge Ramos, Gerardo Reyes;  Maria Antonieta Collins; Tiffany Roberts, Mariana Atencio..
    View online story here.

Judges’ Comments: In a yearlong investigation, hundreds of classified Mexican documents were obtained with great difficulty under the Mexican public access law. A database of 60,000 entries was combined with US government documents to find 57 previously unreported lost weapons under the “Fast and Furious” program and to show the depth in human cost. Univision detailed previously unknown crimes committed with those weapons - including the shooting of 14 teens at a birthday party – and uncovered similar U.S. programs in Colombia, Honduras and Puerto Rico that also went awry. As a result of Univision’s diligence, the Mexican Congress asked for economic compensation for the victims of massacres in which guns from the "Fast and Furious" operation were used. A public debate erupted in Mexico on how much the Mexican government knew. Congress pressed the U.S. Justice Department for more information, and one U..S Congressman called “Rápido y Furioso” the “Holy Grail” that broke the case.

Finalists:

  • "The Mafia of Public Job Competitions," RBS-TV/GLOBO-TV, Giovani Grizotti, Giancarlo Barzi, Marcelo Theil, Hálex Vieira, Renato Nogueira Neto and Alexandre Tandy.
    View online story here.
  • "What Killed Arafat?," Al Jazeera English, Clayton Swisher, Adrian Billing, Nick Porter, Karsten Sondergaard and Gautam Singh.
    View online story here.
  • "Conviction,” Dateline, Dan Slepian, Robert O. Allen, Luke Russert, Tommy Nguyen, John Costello, Stefani Barber, Allan Maraynes, Liz Cole and David Corvo.
    View online story here.
  • "Money Trail 2012,” ABC News, Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, Megan Chuchmach, Cindy Galli, Angela Hill, Michael LaBella, Mark Schone, Lee Ferran, Michael Corn, Jeanmarie Condon and Rhonda Schwartz.
    View online story here.

 

RADIO/AUDIO

Judges’ comments: In a tour de force of journalism enterprise, Swedish Radio News reporters uncovered one of the most secretive projects in Sweden: the illegal financing and construction of an advanced weapons factory in the Saudi Arabian desert in violation of the country’s strict human rights criteria.  Unbeknownst to citizens and the elected officials of Sweden’s Parliament, the country’s Defense Department set up a dummy corporation and used military intelligence cash to hide the government’s complicity in its secret partnership with the Saudi government.  With dogged determination and armed with documents they obtained through various sources, the station peeled away the layers of secrecy. In a gripping storytelling style, the reporters took listeners on their investigative journey as they pursued reluctant sources who confirmed they worked on the project. These reporters stood their ground as the defense minister repeatedly lied about the existence of such a project, even when confronted with the official documents. Their reporting led to the resignation of the defense minister and his staff and the cancellation of the controversial weapons factory project. The judges commend Swedish radio for not only its fine reporting but it’s superb storytelling and production.

Finalists:

 

STUDENT

Judges’ comments: This four-month investigation by Alex Stuckey of The Post, Ohio University’s student newspaper, shows remarkable determination by a single student journalist following her instincts. The investigation began when Stuckey, working on a story about drug arrests, could not find records of items seized by the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, even though state law required those records be kept. Stuckey requested records from other area law enforcement agencies as well as the state Attorney General’s Office. She built her own database. Interviews combined with the records and data showed the sheriff and other agencies were failing to track seizures and forfeitures and in some cases could not account for them at all. Stuckey’s investigation led to an audit by the county into the sheriff’s financial practices.

Finalists:

  • "IJEC: Mental health on campus," CU-CitizenAccess.org, In collaboration with Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication; CU-CitizenAccess.org and the University of Illinois Journalism Department, College of Media; Ball Sate Department of Journalism; School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University; Chicago Talks and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Columbia College, Chicago.
    View online story here.
  • "The Lobbies at the Top," The New York World, Alice Brennan, Sam Guzik, Alyssa Katz, Michael Sullivan, Susan E. McGregor with help from: Curtis Skinner, Sasha Chavkin, Alexander Hotz, Yolanne Almanzar, Matt Drange and Michael Keller.
    View online story here.

 

INVESTIGATIONS TRIGGERED BY BREAKING NEWS

Judges’ comments: When a militant group overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the death of the ambassador and staffers, initial information was contradictory. CNN correspondent Arwa Damon and photojournalist Sarmad Qaseera arrived quickly in Benghazi to find valuable clues in the wide-open but looted and burned ruins of the consulate. Damon’s stories refuted reports that the attack on the consulate was part of larger anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East. Damon’s courageous reporting showed it appeared to be a planned attack that came after U.S. diplomats had been warned days before by Libyan officials about the deteriorating security there. The network stood firm in the face of harsh criticism from the State Department. The U.S. government’s investigation later proved CNN’s reporting to be accurate. Damon also spoke to Libyans who tried to save the ambassador that night, shedding light on what happened to him during his final hours. Her reporting provided additional valuable context about the milieu in which the consulate attack occurred.

Finalists:

 

BOOK

  • The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual—The Biggest Bank Failure in American History, Simon & Schuster.
    Kirsten Grind.
    View webpage for book here.

Judges’ comments: As banks across the United States failed through a combination of greed, mismanagement and circumstances beyond their control, Kirsten Grind became one of the first to publish a meaningful post-mortem. She dug into the collapse of Washington Mutual, the largest bank failure in America, with skill and determination, bringing characters and events to life with an effective use of records and interviews. With crisp writing befitting a novel, she recreates a frightening drama that should have served as a warning to legislators and regulators that too-good-to-be-true home loans would contribute mightily to the collapse of the economy.

Finalists:

  • The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, Simon & Schuster, Tracie McMillan.
    View webpage for book here.
  • Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Seth Rosenfeld.
    View webpage for book here.

 

GANNETT AWARD FOR INNOVATION IN WATCHDOG JOURNALISM

  • Broken Shield,” California Watch.
    Ryan Gabrielson with contributors: Agustin Armendariz, Monica Lam, Michael Montgomery, Carrie Ching, Joanna Lin, Emily Hartley, Marie McIntosh, Nikki Frick, Christine Lee, Meghann Farnsworth, Cole Goins, Mia Zuckerkandel, La Toya Tooles, Robert Salladay, Mark Katches, Lauren Rabaino, Marina Luz
    Brian Cragin.
    Read online story here.

Judges' comments: In "Broken Shield," reporter Ryan Gabrielson tells the disturbing story of how a state police agency failed to protect some of California's most vulnerable residents. But California Watch didn't stop with the traditional story. It aggressively sought and measured impact. It created a graphic video to make the story more accessible. It held events to engage the public. It also published an e-book and sent out postcards to ensure that its message got out to as many people as possible. It is an impressive package that shows that a journalist's work in many ways is just beginning with the publishing of a story.