Awards

2013 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 will be presented at the 2014 IRE Conference in San Francisco, California on Saturday, June 28

For the official press release, click here.

IRE MEDALS

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

The NSA Files,” Guardian US
Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, James Ball, Spencer Ackerman, Dominic Rushe, Julian Borger and the Guardian US staff
(Category: Print/Online Large)
Read this story on the Guardian's website.

 Judges’ comments: In a series of investigative stories based on top-secret National Security Agency documents leaked by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, the Guardian US revealed a story that continues to reverberate in the United States and across the globe. The stories showed the vast scope of domestic and international surveillance programs, the close relationship between technology companies and intelligence agencies, and how technology is leading to widespread mass collection of Americans’ telephone and internet data. The Guardian US was the first to reveal a FISA court order showing how the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected “indiscriminately and in bulk.” The journalists faced two legal regimes with vastly different precedents and laws governing press freedoms. The Guardian brought in U.S. media partners, including The New York Times and ProPublica, after an ultimatum by the UK government to turn over or destroy the documents or risk legal action. The Guardian’s reporting, and that by other news organizations, prompted vigorous debate in the U.S. and around the world as well as numerous legal challenges, Congressional hearings and legislation calling for reform of NSA programs.

 

SPECIAL AWARDS

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

Tom Renner Award

Judges’ comments: In a fearless investigation, AP reporter Alberto Arce chronicled Honduras’ collapse into chaos in the aftermath of a coup in 2009. Arce’s stories uncovered government-sanctioned death squads, human rights abuses in prisons and corruption among police and military forces.  His reporting documented the killing of a Honduran teenager by an Army unit vetted and supplied by the U.S. government. Another story detailed the deaths of civilians during a drug raid in which the U.S. DEA took part. Overcoming a lack of public records available to him, Arce persuaded sources to give him copies of government documents and developed sources within the government, military, court systems and NGOs. He befriended prison officials and gang members alike to gain access to areas they controlled. Arce, who lived in Tegucigalpa with his family, had to take many extraordinary security measures and was eventually pulled out of Honduras after he was warned his reporting would get him killed.

Finalists:

  • "Backfire," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge

 

FOI Award

Judges’ comments: ProPublica accomplished many feats at once in “The Prescribers,” detailing a danger to the nation’s health and billions in wasted federal dollars, while securing complete public access to Medicare prescription data for the first time. After filing a FOIA request with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for data on prescriptions doled out through the Part D drug program, reporters labored for a year negotiating with the agency. Some officials opposed disclosing the identities of doctors and providers, but the information was ultimately released, scoring a precedent for all future requests. ProPublica used the data on prescriptions written over five years by 1.6 million doctors to conduct a nationwide review on questionable practices. The stories were published by dozens of other news media and the data was made available to the public to search doctors by name and compare prescribing practices.

Finalists:

  • "Contrary to the Public Interest," KMGH-Denver, Keli Rabon, John Ferrugia, Jason Foster, Art Kane, Carl Bilek, Jeff Harris and Michael de Yoanna
  • "Deadly Delays," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ellen Gabler, Mark Johnson, John Fauber, Allan James Vestal and Kristyna Wentz-Graff
  • "Legacy of Neglect," The Columbus Dispatch, Mark Ferenchik, Jill Riepenhoff and Mike Wagner

 

2013 Award winners and finalists by category:


PRINT/ONLINE

PRINT/ONLINE - SMALL

Judge's Comments: Part Financial Times and part Carl Hiaasen novel, this yearlong series chronicled the collapse of 69 local banks in Florida. The stories unearthed a trail of crime and corporate malfeasance and showed that in the heady days of Florida's real estate boom, bankers in the state were using their lending institutions as personal piggy banks. Reporters Michael Braga and Anthony Cormier took advantage of an obscure Florida law to gain access to never-before-seen regulatory reports on failed banks. They showed some lent millions to known mobsters. Spouses and children of bank executives got money through insider deals. Bank officials used complex schemes to funnel millions out of their banks before they collapsed. Reaction was swift. Three bankers were indicted for fraud based on the newspaper's findings, the FDIC filed three civil lawsuits and other investigations are pending.

Finalists:

  • "The Meth Menace," The Charleston Gazette, Eric Eyre, David Gutman,Rob Byers, Rachel Molenda and Victoria Zigadlo
  • "Private Prisons," Palm Beach Post, Pat Beall, Joel Engelhardt, Michelle Quigley and Niels Heimeriks

 

PRINT/ONLINE - MEDIUM

Judges' Comments: In an exhaustive and shocking yearlong-series, Journal Sentinel reporters John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge detail reckless and illegal operations carried out by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation began with a tip about federal agents damaging a rental property and expanded into a nationwide scandal with relentless digging. The reporters discovered the ATF taking advantage of people with intellectual disabilities by employing them in undercover operations, giving firearms to unsupervised felons and buying stolen property that encouraged burglaries. The stories prompted the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general to open an inquiry into the newspaper’s findings.

Finalists:

 

PRINT/ONLINE - LARGE (TIE)

Judges’ comments: This report broke new ground, mining Facebook and Yahoo groups and bulletin boards to find a story that had been completely unexplored. “The Child Exchange” revealed how families are passing off their adopted children to strangers. The reporters identified eight online bulletin boards where participants advertised unwanted children, often international adoptees, as part of an informal practice called "private re-homing."  The reporters talked with parents who gave away or took in children and also interviewed the children themselves, who talked about being brought to America and discarded by their adoptive parents. Reuters’ investigation found that in a single Internet group, a child was offered to strangers on average once a week during a five-year period.
 

Judges’ comments: In a series of investigative stories based on top-secret National Security Agency documents leaked by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, the Guardian US revealed a story that continues to reverberate in the United States and across the globe. The stories showed the vast scope of domestic and international surveillance programs, the close relationship between technology companies and intelligence agencies, and how technology is leading to widespread mass collection of Americans’ telephone and internet data. The Guardian US was the first to reveal a FISA court order showing how the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected “indiscriminately and in bulk.” The journalists faced two legal regimes with vastly different precedents and laws governing press freedoms. The Guardian brought in U.S. media partners, including The New York Times and ProPublica, after an ultimatum by the UK government to turn over or destroy the documents or risk legal action. The Guardian’s reporting, and that by other news organizations, prompted vigorous debate in the U.S. and around the world as well as numerous legal challenges, Congressional hearings and legislation calling for reform of NSA programs.

Finalists:

  • "Homes for the Taking: Liens, Loss and Profiteers," The Washington Post, Debbie Cenziper, Michael Sallah and Steven Rich
  • "NSA and the Snowden Files," The Washington Post, Barton Gellman, Laura Poitras, Ashkan Soltani, Julie Tate, Ellen Nakashima, Peter Wallsten, Carol Leonnig, Alice Crites, Greg Miller
  • "Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze," International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Gerard Ryle, Marina Walker Guevara, Michael Hudson, Djordje Padejski, Kimberley Porteous, David Donald, Nicky Hager, Mar Cabra, Duncan Campbell, Stefan Candea, Rigoberto Carvajal, Matthew Caruana Galizia, Giannina Segnini, Matthew Fowler, Sebastian Mondial, James Ball, François Pilet, Leslie Wayne, Frédéric Zalac, Harvey Cashore, Alex Shprintsen, Nicole Reinert, Zach Dubinsky, David Leigh, Frederik Obermaier, Bastian Obermayer and Leo Sisti.

 

 

MULTIPLATFORM

MULTIPLATFORM - SMALL

Judges’ comments: A billion dollars here, 12 million passengers there and somebody ought to pay attention. While some reporters have abandoned the type of beat reporting that produces investigations about important public policy issues, inewsource continued to press forward with a dogged probe of San Diego’s North County Transit system.  inewsource filed 40 open records requests and produced 30 stories making the most of video, audio and the written word to reveal layer upon layer of bureaucratic arrogance, corruption and ineptitude at the transit system.  inewsource did not shrink under a fusillade of legal fire. The result has been a series of accountability measures involving the system, enough to show that Brad Racino and company are making an impact.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM - MEDIUM

Judges’ comments: Reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed a shocking practice at many of the nation’s hospitals. In an analysis of nearly 3 million newborn screening tests from throughout the country, the Journal Sentinel found that hundreds of thousands of blood samples from newborn babies arrive late at labs where they are to be tested. Despite very clear and dramatic warnings to send blood samples to state labs within 24 hours, many hospitals don’t comply, and instead wait days and then send blood samples in batches, saving a few dollars in postage. As a result, children who should be diagnosed and treated shortly after birth are suffering preventable brain damage and even death. Reporters at the newspaper fought a state-by-state public records battle to gather the data.  The investigation sparked reaction nationwide, including action in Congress and from dozens of states across the country that have made or are making significant changes to their newborn screening programs.

Finalists:

 

MULTIPLATFORM - LARGE

  • Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
    Gerard Ryle, Marina Walker Guevara, Michael Hudson, Djordje Padejski, Kimberley Porteous, David Donald, Nicky Hager, Mar Cabra, Duncan Campbell, Stefan Candea, Rigoberto Carvajal, Matthew Caruana Galizia, Giannina Segnini, Matthew Fowler, Sebastian Mondial, James Ball, François Pilet, Leslie Wayne, Frédéric Zalac, Harvey Cashore, Alex Shprintsen, Nicole Reinert, Zach Dubinsky, David Leigh, Frederik Obermaier, Bastian Obermayer and Leo Sisti.
    Read this story on ICIJ's website.

Judges’ comments: ICIJ produced a tremendously ambitious international reporting effort that is awe-inspiring by every measure. A team of more than 100 journalists mined a collection of millions of pages of leaked documents exposing how wealthy people worldwide use offshore havens to hide fortunes and shrink their tax bills. The investigation found that major financial institutions have served as accomplices, devising ways to park assets in front companies in the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere. ICIJ, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, told the story in myriad ways, including a searchable database of offshore companies and trusts. The project prompted high profile resignations and civil and criminal investigations on four continents.

Finalists:

  • "Rehab Racket," CNN and The Center for Investigative Reporting, CNN: Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin, Richard T. Griffiths, Patricia DiCarlo and Charlie Moore CIR: Christina Jewett, Will Evans, Amy Pyle, Mark Katches and Susanne Reber
  • "Breathless and Burdened: Dying from black lung, buried by law and medicine," The Center for Public Integrity, in partnership with ABC News, Chris Hamby, Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, Kimberley Porteous, Erik Lincoln, Sarah Whitmire, Chris Zubak-Skees, Timothy Meko, Peter Newbatt Smith, David Donald, Jim Morris, Rhonda Schwartz and Ronnie Greene
  • "Known to police 2013," Toronto Star, Andrew Bailey, Linh Do, Brian Hughes, Hidy Ng, Jim Rankin, Randy Risling, Serena Willoughby and Patty Winsa
  • "Supplement Shell Game," USA TODAY, Alison Young, John Hillkirk, Shannon Rae Green and Garrett Hubbard

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO

BROADCAST/VIDEO - SMALL

Judges’ comments:  This exhaustive series shows what can happen when a tenacious reporter just keeps digging. Acting on a tip, WVUE's Lee Zurik began investigating the coroner's office in St. Tammany Parish, an affluent suburb north of New Orleans. He soon discovered that Peter Galvan -- who had convinced voters to approve a tax increase for his office budget -- had rewarded himself lucrative raises that made him the highest-paid elected official in Louisiana. As Zurik continued to peel back more layers using 25 public records requests, he found that Galvan had charged lavish meals to a public credit card and was cashing in tens of thousands of dollars in supposed unused sick and vacation time, all while jet-setting around the globe. Several months into the station's reporting, the FBI began investigating.  Lawmakers stripped the coroner of the power to set his own budget and by month eight, he had resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges in federal court.

Finalists:

  • "Questions of Influence," WTVF-Nashville, Phil Williams, Ben Hall,Kevin Wisniewski, Bryan Staples and Iain Montgomery
  • "Trail of Dirty Deeds, KSHB-Kansas City, Ryan Kath, Melissa Greenstein, Michael Butler and John Woods

 

BROADCAST/VIDEO - MEDIUM

Judges’ comments: This gripping series of reports tackles the topic of ground transportation safety, focusing on a string of tour bus accidents in southern California and astoundingly lax government policing of that industry. The team took a multifaceted approach to the investigation, focusing both on inspection and accident records, as well as an on-the-street documentation of driver behavior. The team found regulators with knowledge of tour bus safety violations who still allowed the buses to carry passengers, as well as a record of dangerous driver behavior on many of the routes followed.  The team overcame language difficulties in dealing with owners of bus companies and enlisted expert help to be sure speed reports on the buses followed were accurate.  The investigation achieved major results, including a highway patrol raid on one of the companies and federal regulators shutting down six companies.

Finalists:

  • "Raked Over the Coals", KPNX-Phoenix, Wendy Halloran, Jeffrey Blackburn, Mark Phillips, Bryan West, and Mark Casey

 

BROADCAST VIDEO - LARGE

Judges’ comments: Taxpayers spend tens of millions of dollars in California for legitimate drug and alcohol rehab centers to help low-income addicts recover. But CNN and CIR nailed down how chronic scam artists have siphoned off millions of dollars by billing the public for fake patients. “Rehab Racket” brings the triple whammy of data, paper records and good old surveillance to document massive, systemic fraud. After being ignored and stiff-armed by state officials up and down the chain of command, CNN shows up with cameras in tow for an unscheduled accountability session with California’s top health official. Drew Griffin walks the fine line of being polite yet insistent that the public is owed an answer.  The series got results: fraudulent clinics shut down, criminal prosecutions begun and public officials held to account.

Finalists:

  • "Invasion of Privacy," RBS/GLOBO TV, Giovani Grizotti, Marcelo Theil, Vera Souto and Joelson Maia
  • "ABC, The Look out, Flood Cars," ABC News, Jeanmarie Condon, Bill Weir, David Scott, Gerry Wagschal, Dan Morris, Mike Cappetta, Erin Brady, Karl Dawson, Jeremy Phillips, Paul Carneiro, Ron Ladd, Kenny Chow, Spencer Wilking, Ozren Milharcic, Jay Enyart, Ken Collins, Christopher Schneider, Sarah Kolinovsky and Candace Smith
  • "Lethal Medicine," 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Michael Radutzky, Scott Pelley, Michael Rey, Oriana Zill de Granados, Stephanie Palewski Brumbach, Andrew Bast and Emily Rand
  • "40 Million Mistakes," 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Steve Kroft, James Jacoby, Michael Karzis, Matthew Lev

 

 

RADIO/AUDIO

  • The Girl Who Got Tied Down,” Swedish Radio
    Daniel Velasco with Ylva Lindgren
    Listen to this story on Swedish Radio's website here and here (story is broadcast in Swedish).

Judges’ comments: It turns out “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is not all fiction. “The Girl Who Got Tied Down” is all too real: Abused by her own father, only to face rape while in foster care by others. Her attackers included a senior police official who publicly proclaimed he was a “feminist.” The police chief was ultimately exposed and prosecuted in a high profile arrest.  The story also focuses on a senior psychiatrist who personally profits from abandoning the girl. Drawing from the girl’s own recordings -- including confrontations with staff who have ignored and neglected her -- Daniel Velasco and Swedish Radio weave together a riveting story, powerful and revelatory.  After the documentary aired, the psychiatrist was fired and his company lost its contract. But more important, the documentary commanded public attention to the plight of all children lost in a harsh system.

Finalists:

  • "Buried in Grain," National Public Radio, Howard Berkes, Andrea de Leon and Jim Morris from The Center for Public Integrity
  • "Betrayed by Silence," Minnesota Public Radio, Madeleine Baran, Sasha Aslanian, Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, Laura Yuen, Mike Edgerly, Meg Martin, Bill Wareham and Chris Worthington
  • "Reveal: The VA's Opiate Overload," The Center for Investigative Reporting, Aaron Glantz, Agustin Armendariz, Aaron Williams, Michael Corey,  Michael Montgomery, Adithya Sambamurthy, Stephanie Mechura, Cole Goins, Amy Pyle, Susanne Reber and Ben Adair

 

 

STUDENT (TIE)

Judges’ comments: When Butler University named South African icon Allan Boesak as the executive director for its new Desmond Tutu Center, the announcement received widespread praise. Boesak’s role in working with Archbishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others to bring down the apartheid regime was highlighted. Butler Collegian Managing Editor Ryan Lovelace wanted to know more about the man being entrusted with university funds to run the center. In a three-month investigation, Lovelace used South African court records, documents from Wikileaks and interviews with sources in South Africa to document Boesak's history. The former freedom fighter had been convicted of misusing donations made to his foundation. Although Boesak was still appointed to the Butler position, the article raised questions about his appointment and ability to manage a nonprofit center that has received millions in contributions. This was a powerful investigation done by a lone student at a small college newspaper with few resources. It should inspire other students to do similar work.

 

Judges’ comments: Students at the Medill Justice Project set their sights on an often-misunderstood area of the criminal justice system: shaken-baby syndrome. The students found few reliable national statistics so they set to create a centralized source, using more than 30 sources to compile what's believed to be the largest publicly available national database. Along the way, the students successfully fought several First Amendment battles with law enforcement to gain access to records. They also challenged Illinois’ corrections officials, winning the ability to conduct on-camera interviews with inmates. Their reporting won results. A federal judge took the rare step of reopening a federal innocence hearing. In another case, the findings were included in the prisoner’s clemency petition before the governor.

Finalists:

  • "Lost signals, disconnected lives, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Mario Koran, Lukas Keapproth and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism staff
  • "Back Home: The Enduring Battles Facing Post-9/11 Veterans," ASU-News21, News21 Staff: This project was produced by 26 students from 12 universities working under the direction of a team of editors led by Leonard Downie Jr. and Jacquee Petchel
    The student reporters were: Asha Anchan and Riley Johnson from the University of Nebraska; Forest Burnson of University of Texas at Austin; Bonnie Campo, Chase Cook and Kelsey Hightower of the University of Oklahoma; Anthony Cave, Florida International University; Caitlin Cruz, Chad Garland, Peter Haden, Trahern Wallace Jones, Andrew Knochel, Rachel Leingang, Kay Miller, Mary Shin, Jake Stein and Mauro Whiteman of Arizona State University; Jeff Hargarten, University of Minnesota; Gregory Kohn and Jessica Wilde, University of Maryland; Daniel Moore, Kent State University; Steven Rich, University of Missouri; Colton Totland, University of Oregon; Catey Traylor, Central Michigan University; and Meg Wagner and Hannah Winston, University of Florida.

 

 

INVESTIGATIONS TRIGGERED BY BREAKING NEWS

Judges’ comments: After the devastating explosion that killed 15 and injured more than 100 people in Texas, the WFAA team moved quickly to have reports on the air investigating the cause of the disaster and what regulators could have done to prevent it. The reports focused on much-ignored federal regulations requiring local agencies to form planning committees to track dangerous chemicals. The county where the explosion took place was in violation of federal law and did not have such a committee. The investigation then expanded to find a large group of counties in violation of the law and lacking any record of where dangerous and explosive chemicals were stored.  Due to the breaking nature of the investigation, the reporters faced hostile sources for the story, nerves still raw from having just lost friends in the explosion. The investigation resulted in the state issuing new rules for the reporting and storage of hazardous chemicals.

Finalists:

  • "A Deadly Explosion," Houston Chronicle, Ingrid Lobet, Lise Olsen, Yang Wang, Tony Freemantle, Peggy Fikac, Patti Hart, John Tedesco, Matthew Tresaugue and Eric Berger
  • "The Shell Game," KXAS-Dallas/Fort Worth, Scott Friedman, Eva Parks, Peter Hull and Shannon Hammel
  • "Tracking Danger," KMGH-Denver, Theresa Marchetta, Jennifer Castor, Carl Bilek

BOOK

Judges’ comments: Wright's investigation of the Church of Scientology is groundbreaking in its examination of one of the most well known, but secretive, religion organizations in the world.   He draws on previously secret documents-- including internal works of the church's founder L. Ron Hubbard--interviews with former and current members of the church and hundreds of court records to present a hard- hitting, but balanced view of church and its followers. The book shines a light on the church's harsh treatment of those who try to leave, but also highlights those, including some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, who have benefited from its teachings. The book also explores the complicated biography of the church's founder and its relationship with its most famous member, actor Tom Cruise.  Despite threats from the church, which is known for its aggressive defense of its works and members, this work provides the best understanding of Scientology to date.

Finalists:

 

 

GANNETT AWARD FOR INNOVATION IN WATCHDOG JOURNALISM

Judges' comments: In The Texas Tribune’s “Spotlight on the Texas Legislature,” the live stream of the House and Senate proceedings presents a simple innovation by a scrappy team of journalists and demonstrates how to tell a story of national interest beyond its local audience. That, combined with relentless, constantly updated watchdog reporting, brought transparency to a state legislature with a history of opaqueness. The judges are unaware of any other comparably sized news organization doing this kind of watchdog work in these kinds of simple, yet smart, solutions. Through the live stream combined with the interactive documenting of conflicts of interest and financial relationships, the team has given us all unfettered access to the entire Texas legislature. This is an example of truly innovative thinking by a small team that allows a broad, national audience to have meaningful access to important state-level stories.

 

For questions or concerns about the IRE Awards please contact Lauren Grandestaff, lauren@ire.org, 573-882-6668573-882-6668 .