Investigative Reporters and Editors last week announced its annual award winners for investigative reporting, underscoring once again the vital importance of a free press.
The organization was formed in 1975 to promote and recognize investigative reporting at a time when newspapers and TV stations were eliminating such positions to save a buck. The organization is still around because the trend continues.
Its awards have become as coveted among investigative reporters as the Pulitzer Prize. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration because most Pulitzer winners get $10,000 and a certificate, and IRE winners get a medal and a handshake.
But there is only one Pulitzer for investigative reporting. IRE has several categories, including circulation and market size categories, that provide an opportunity for recognition of exceptional work by midsize and small papers and TV stations.
The Pulitzer committee has given the most attention to the work of reporters at five papers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. Those are among the largest papers in the country, and they spend a bundle on investigative reporting.
IRE, in a March 25 press release, said it handed out more awards for outstanding work this year than it ever has. IRE Board President James Grimaldi, of The Washington Post, said the awards this year were a “testament to the amount of groundbreaking investigative journalism accomplished last year during extraordinarily difficult economic times for the media industry.”
Without the work of these members of a free press and the dedication of their news companies to produce the work, most of these stories would never have been made public. You’ll recognize many of them.
Among the IRE medal and certificate winners, as reported in the press release, were:
• Reporters at The Washington Post for their series on Walter Reed Hospital and the terrible treatment and neglect of wounded military members from Iraq and Afghanistan. The story led to Congressional hearings and reforms of the military and VA health system.
• Reporters at The New York Times for their stories about mysterious poisonings in Panama. They traced the poisonings back to shoddy and corrupt manufacturing in China. The stories led the FDA to halt imports of Chinese glycerin and a massive worldwide recall of Chinese-made toothpaste.
• A reporter at the Salt Lake Tribune who traveled to China to reveal the deadly manufacturing practices of the Chinese. Americans are enjoying the benefits of cheap Chinese goods made by workers forced to handle radioactive and toxic substances without any safety equipment while American importers and retailers accept falsified documents as proof the abuses aren’t taking place.
• Reporters at Long Island-based Newsday who revealed, sometimes simply by using a tape measure, the numerous and dangerous safety problems with the Long Island Railroad. The stories led to a public outcry and long-overdue reforms.
• Reporters at The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle for their story about the Richmond County, Ga., criminal justice system. The paper reviewed hundreds of court cases to reveal that many people convicted of serious crimes were not able to appeal their cases to higher courts, a fundamental right of due process.
• Reporters at WFAA-TV in Dallas revealed a decrepit, dangerous and leaking gas pipeline that had caused several explosions killing six people. The series forced the government and the gas utility, which had been insisting the pipeline was fine, to spend millions replacing the system.
• Reporters at WMSV-TV in Nashville, Tenn., revealed that the state had been allowing the dumping of low-level radioactive waste in community landfills around the state. The story caused state government to halt the practice and begin a cleanup.
• Reporters at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, Penn., revealed abuses of taxpayer money by Pennsylvania’s state-run student loan agency. Government workers were using public funds to pay for tuxedo rentals, flowers, alcohol, NFL tickets and aromatherapy massages.
To read more about the winner and finalists for the awards, go to www.ire.org. The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced Monday.
Read Tucson Citizen Assistant City Editor Mark B. Evans’ blog, “Why a Free Press?”
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