SDX 2001 Awards Gallery
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Over 100,000)
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Under 100,000)
Television Reporting: Network/Top 25
Television Reporting: All other markets
Investigations offer service
By Mike McQueen
In February, I was invited to Gannett Co. headquarters to help judge the best journalism of 2001 produced by the company’s metro newspapers. As we were debating the finalists, we agreed that one entry should have more properly been judged for its investigative reporting.
As it turned out, the entry had been placed in both categories, and it was selected as a winner for investigative reporting.
As I mulled over the fine investigative journalism produced for the 2001 Sigma Delta Chi awards, I thought about the close relationship between “investigative” reporting and reporting that is considered “public service.”
Yes, it is possible to do a story that serves the public but which does not rely on investigative reporting methods. But it is difficult, I argue, to publish or broadcast an investigative report that does not provide a service to the public.
We really didn’t define reporting as investigative until 1964. That’s when the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting went to the old Philadelphia Bulletin for an expose on how police officers were running a numbers racket out of the station house. Before then, that category had been called “Local Reporting.” As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel note in “The Elements of Journalism,” The Bulletin’s award signaled that emphasis had now been placed “on the role of the press as activist, reformer and exposer.”
You can see those roles played out in this year’s winning entries.
There are hard-hitting reports following the tragedy of Sept. 11. This is “breaking” investigative work. Think of Woodward and Bernstein’s police reporter-like pursuit of the Watergate scandal.
There are reports of despair from America’s heartland. This is the journalism of outrage, perfected by the muckrakers.
There are detailed explorations of systems, specifically of how corporate profits trump public concerns and of how power really works in state capitals. Think here of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s explanatory work for The Philadelphia Inquirer and now TIME magazine.
Investigative journalism covers all these areas – and more. The more – the extra, if you will – is the commitment to public service. Above all else, this year’s winning entries showed that investigative journalism is a serious, public enterprise. It is detailed, patient inquiry into matters of great public concern.
Gene Roberts, former Philadelphia Inquirer editor, perhaps defined it best. Investigative reporting digs “beneath the surface so we can help readers understand what’s going on in an increasingly complex world.”
Mike McQueen is chair of the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Florida International University.
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Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Voiceless and Vulnerable
The work on “Voiceless and Vulnerable” started long before its first front-page report.
The Star Tribune filed a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota, claiming it was illegal to seal the files on the deaths of developmentally disabled people in state-regulated homes. The paper won, and the opened files helped the Star Tribune expose a medical and care-giving world lacking basic education, maltreatment and branded carelessness.
Star Tribune reporter Paul McEnroe investigated the conditions of developmentally disabled patients and interviewed more than 150 people for the lengthy series.
“While McEnroe’s work clearly required extensive research, it was compelling from beginning to end,” judges said. “He divulged horrific conditions that plagued Minnesota’s system to care for 17,000 of that state’s most vulnerable residents.”
“Voiceless and Vulnerable” starts with a story that begins 40 years before its publication – the chronicle of a 6-year-old named Kerry Olson, a mentally retarded boy lost in state-regulated hospitals and group homes for more than 30 years.
McEnroe describes the facilities Olson was placed in, including foster homes, Ancker Hospital and Cambridge State Hospital where he was renamed No. 4748:
On Nov. 7, 1961, the small thin boy arrived at Cambridge to take his place among the nearly 2,000 children and adults who were growing up and growing old inside the institution.
A few weeks later, someone placed the pajama-clad boy on a chair. A piece of paper scrawled with 4748 was hung on a curtain behind him. A camera snapped the new arrival. In the photograph his face appeared grim.
The brick and cinderblock buildings called Boswell and McBroom Hall became his home, places where the non-ambulatory were housed and where so-called “herd care” was common.
McEnroe’s series carefully weaves the interviews of patients’ family members, doctors, investigators, system workers and administrators to tell the heartbreaking stories of people lost in the state-regulated group homes.
The series includes the facts and figures on the low-wage and untrained employees who care for the developmentally disabled patients as well as more intimate stories about abused people in the system and the family members they left behind.
The last part of the series looks into the “hire, then check” system of employing workers. McEnroe disclosed that people convicted of violent crimes such as attempted murder, child abuse and rape were permitted to care for patients. Group home employees who have committed maltreatment or failed to report it are also permitted to continue working.
McEnroe’s series prompted public action. More than 50 people gathered for a candlelight memoriam for the victims of maltreatment mentioned in the stories and pledged to hold the state government responsible for the system’s failures.
The state has since spent $2.7 million to clean up the system and improve its conditions. Screening processes, while still not perfect, have significantly progressed since “Voiceless and Vulnerable.”
“In some ways, McEnroe reported the kind of story that undoubtedly happens across the nation: Caregivers are poorly trained, penalties are light, inspectors are overloaded and reports are altered to protect facilities,” judges said. “But ... McEnroe did something extraordinary: He gave voices to those who literally could not speak and sparked a statewide debate about their care.
“It is one of journalism’s highest callings.”
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Dee J. Hall, Phil Brinkman and staff, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wis., Caucuses: Secret Campaign Machines
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The Wisconsin State Journal staff began an investigation into political and financial corruption in the state legislature with pens in hand and heavy disappointment.
“Wisconsin long has been a model state for government honesty and effectiveness, growing out of our grand Progressive tradition,” said Frank Denton, editor of the State Journal. “But finally, we began to hear, the pernicious mix of money, political ambition and partisan power was finding its way into our Capitol. Then we found it, deeply imbedded in state government.”
A September 2000 election advance first hinted at the corrupt government spending. During a routine interview, reporter Dee Hall was told that a candidate’s campaign spokesman was a state worker who appeared to be campaigning on state time.
The tip-off led Hall and fellow reporter Phil Brinkman to an array of extensive and expensive tax-funded “caucus” staffs and offices that requested political money and recruited friendly candidates.
The paper used sidebars to explain the true role of publicly funded caucuses, which are intended to research issues, craft policies and communicate with constituents and the media – not campaign for candidates.
The in-depth reporting involved seven months of more than 70 interviews and poring over hundreds of pages of documents before the story hit stands.
“The task was daunting because we often were seeking information from unwilling sources worried about their political careers,” Denton said. “The documentation had to be painstaking because we were writing about potential violations of several state laws.”
The State Journal’s initial coverage explored the issue of state employees campaigning through their caucuses, including interviews with former state employees and explanations of state ethics laws that prohibit the use of government assets, such as supplies and time, for personal campaigning.
The state Ethics Board has advised legislators and their employees that it is illegal to campaign on state time or with state resources. But a State Journal investigation involving hundreds of records and interviews with more than 70 people found that the caucuses operate as secret campaign machines, especially during the election season.
Sidebars – such as memos, receipts, e-mails and campaign brochures – are used throughout the reporting to reiterate the possible corrupt activities of some caucuses.
The paper continued to cover the government’s investigation into the questionable campaigning.
On Jan. 25, 2002, an attorney for the Wisconsin legislature asked a judge to subpoena a State Journal reporter, seize the reporter’s notes and files, and place a gag order on the newspaper’s coverage.
“We served notice, of course, that we will not be silenced,” Denton said. “Wisconsin government will be clean again because of our work in 2001-02.”
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Evan Thomas, Mark Hosenball, Martha Brant, Roy Gutman and the Newsweek investigative team, Newsweek, Danger: Terror Ahead and Trail of Terror
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For most of us, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11 served as a wake-up call. It was a sign of the changing times and the danger that they present, even to what seems impervious – like the United States. But nearly seven months earlier, Newsweek magazine had warned all of us that we weren’t as safe as we thought.
Their Feb. 19 issue explained how Osama bin Laden’s terror network was growing all across the globe. The resentment for U.S. policies and hatred toward Americans was increasing.
A week before the publication of “Danger: Terror Ahead,” CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee that bin Laden’s global terror network was “the most immediate and serious threat” to the national security of the United States.
“Newsweek warned a nation on Feb. 19,” wrote the judges. “After I read it, there were no questions left in my mind, except one – why didn’t this nation drop the magazine and do something? It did everything but slap the reader across the face.”
The piece describes all the aspects of terror networks, such as Al Qaeda, and how they operate. It went into detail about the extent of Al Qaeda’s global reach and how it laundered money to finance its activities. The story follows bin Laden’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The writers warned of the grand plots that bin Laden was capable of executing.
Bin Laden is a slippery foe. He runs a loose alliance of semiautonomous cells and raises money through innocent-seeming front organizations. Even close surveillance sometimes fails to head off an attack.
Why didn’t the spooks and gumshoes uncover the (U.S. embassies in Africa) bombing plot? Because the suspects were smart enough to speak cryptically, using pseudonyms and code words, say U.S. officials.
With the large amount of sensitive information needed to get to the bottom of the story, Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas prodded CIA and other intelligence sources in Washington.
Investigative Correspondent Mark Hosenball flew to Europe and interviewed a bin Laden associate who was hiding in “plain view” in London. He also spoke to a roommate of the main suspect in the thwarted “millennium terror plot,” where bombs on several planes were to be set off at the same time on New Year’s Eve 2000.
“Hats off to Newsweek for highlighting this as far back as February,” wrote a subscriber from Sri Lanka in a letter to the editor. “If only your warnings had been heeded.”
The story also seemed prophetic in predicting the United States’ political role against terror around the world.
With the collapse of the Middle East peace process and the end of Bill Clinton’s intense diplomatic involvement, the Bush administration had hoped to be able to step up back from the troubled region. But events may dictate otherwise.
Staff, NPR and National Geographic Society, Coltan and Eastern Congo’s Gorillas
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When consumers purchase electronic devices such as computers, cellular phones and electronic organizers, they rarely consider how the materials that make up those gadgets were obtained. All they know is that the contraption has made their life easier or more efficient in some way. What they don’t think about is the price someone or something had to pay so that their life can be more convenient.
In central Africa, in the democratic republic of Congo, there is an ongoing slaughter of thousands of elephants and gorillas. Their deaths are tied to an obscure mineral ore that is essential to products that most of us don’t associate with Congo: computers and cell phones.
A rare mineral ore, called coltan, is at the root of these animals’ demise. “Columbo-tantalite” is one source of the element tantalum. Tantalum is a necessary coating for components of many electronic devices.
The conflict over the expedition and control of natural resources can be blamed for years of civil unrest in Congo. The country has an unstable government, two rebel armies and numerous foreign invaders. But what Congo cherishes most is the Kahuzi-Biega Wildlife Park, designated as a United Nations World Heritage site.
“It is a World Heritage site,” said scientist George Shaller. “That means it is of world importance.”
National Public Radio correspondent Alex Chadwick describes the park as “a spectacular refuge for elephants and gorillas. But it’s not a refuge anymore.”
Since the advent of modern technological devices, the demand has risen for coltan. Many manufacturers of electronic components doubled and tripled their supply orders for tantalum. This drove the price of ore from $30 a pound to more than $400. U.S. imports of coltan in 2000 had more than doubled from the previous year.
With the increased demand came the escalation of mining in Congo and other parts of Africa. The ore can easily be mined with nothing more than a shovel there. But miners in the area are destroying the habitats of elephants and gorillas in the process. Even worse, they are shooting the animals for their meat.
“We are thinking maybe 350 of the elephant families have been killed,” said U.N. investigator Francois Ecoca.
It is estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 elephants were killed by miners for food from 1995-1997. A researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society found the elephant population virtually wiped out in the area. It is thought that about half of what was a fairly healthy gorilla population in the eastern lowlands no longer exists.
“Call Congo ‘the land of fatal wealth,’” said Chadwick in his report. “And call Congo ‘the nation of despair.’”
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John Miller, Brian Ross, Chris Isham, Terri Lichtstein and Stu Schutzman, ABC News, ABC News Investigative Reports Post 9/11
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With the intense coverage of the events of Sept. 11 and the weeks that followed, it was difficult for one media outlet’s work to stand out from the rest of the competition. But ABC News’ compilation of breaking, investigative reports following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon went a step further than the other networks.
“It was a stunning example of how investigative reporting – digging beyond the surface of events – can be done quickly,” wrote the judges. “These reports on the fly had all the power, all the sense of important disclosure that normally would take weeks to bring to public sight.”
ABC has invested years of commitment to investigative reporting. The network broadcast over 100 investigative stories from Sept. 11 until the end of the year, some of which contained intelligence even authorities did not have.
“It looked as though the FBI was playing catch-up with ABC News,” said an editorial in the Baltimore Sun.
ABC News was the first to report several facts concerning the hijackers Sept. 11. They broke the identification and role of ringleader Mohammed Atta and how terrorists had attempted to access U.S. airline cockpits prior to that day. The network detailed the flight training of the hijackers at flight schools around the United States, as well as their efforts to obtain and fly crop dusting planes for future attacks.
ABC also obtained exclusive cockpit tapes of the hijacking of United Flight 93 that crashed in western Pennsylvania. The audio of the struggle when passengers tried to overpower the hijackers is something that relatives of those heroes could hear only on ABC.
An exclusive interview with the air traffic controller at Dulles Airport, Danielle O’Brien, gave special insight into the mayhem of that day and what was running through the minds of those watching American Flight 77 on a radar screen:
We lost radio contact with that aircraft. And we waited, and we waited, with your heart just beating out of your chest. And then the Washington National (Airport) traffic controllers came over our speakers in our room and said, “Dulles, hold all of our inbound traffic. The Pentagon’s been hit.”
Hagit Limor, Gary Hughes, Paul Grundy, Michael Bendic and Bob Morford, WCPO-TV, Cincinnati, The Secret Report
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They are known as the “Big Four” in Cincinnati: Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Kroger and Cincinnati Bell. In 1991, there was a very secretive report, known as the Iameter Report, funded by the town’s four biggest corporate giants. The city’s health care situation would never be the same.
The study was meant to uncover the best health care for the companies’ employees at the cheapest rates. It concluded that the companies needed to cut their insurance costs to maximize profit margins.
The threat of losing thousands of potential patients employed by the “Big Four” forced hospitals and doctors in the area to negotiate deals that dramatically reduced their pay. Doctors learned they could earn much more by moving just hours away to towns such as Columbus, Cleveland or Indianapolis.
What you may have noticed as a longer wait for an appointment ... boils down to this:
(Dr. Larkin:) We can’t get doctors to come to this area.
Wait a minute. Isn’t Cincinnati supposed to be a cutting edge medical town? How can it be we’re losing doctors and unable to recruit more?
The I-Team may have found one answer in a report the public never saw - the Iameter Report, commissioned in 1992 by four of our biggest corporations in Cincinnati.
(Hagit:) “That’s a lot of clout.”
(Dimario:) “Yea, there probably was a little weight-shifting there.”
Many of Cincinnati’s top doctors began taking their practices elsewhere, trimming hours or just retiring early. Groups of physicians cannot recruit new medical school graduates to the area due to the lower salaries available. Some patients may wait months for appointments, even the wealthy.
Orthopedic specialist Dr. Dan Funk says insurance companies paid more than $5,000 for him to fix a knee ligament, known as the ACL, in 1990. Today, they’re paying $1,360 at most. But what is disturbing to physicians and surgeons in the Cincinnati area is that insurers pay more for the exact same operation in Pittsburgh, Columbus or Indianapolis.
“If you call a mass exodus of physicians a model, that’s certainly one way to put it,” said Dr. Mort Bertram.
Bertram is only one example of doctors leaving the greater Cincinnati area for greener pastures. He attended U.C. Medical School, married a Cincinnati native and planned to practice there for much of his life. But Cincinnati’s “Top Doctor” for total joint replacement in 1998 blames his move to Naples, Fla., on the Iameter Report.
“I’ll come right out and say that,” he said. “I think that that’s basically where it started. And what has happened in Cincinnati is some of your best and brightest young physicians have left Cincinnati.”
WCPO’s I-Team spent two years on its investigation. They committed an unprecedented 18 minutes of airtime over two 30-minute newscasts. To illustrate the gravity of their findings, the station then replayed the entire 18 minutes over another two 30-minute shows. Other affiliates in the area steered away from the topic, fearing loss of advertising dollars from such large corporations.
“We were particularly impressed by how fair, how even-handed the report was,” wrote the judges. “The station respected the highest standards of journalism.”
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Staff of seattletimes.com, The Seattle Times, Uninformed Consent
Investigating the possible health risks that patients and families were taking on unknowingly as part of experimental treatment at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Times reporters Duff Wilson and David Heath began sifting through more than 10,000 pages of federal, state and medical sources.
The Times wanted their readers to view the same documents that led to “Uninformed Consent,” a series of articles examining the inadequate procedures taking place at a cancer research center commonly known as “The Hutch.” The paper wanted readers to reach their own conclusions from the same information used by the reporters.
The length of the papers made print publication of the proof impossible, but the Seattle Times’ Web site – seattletimes.com – was able to post significant documents in unedited form.
The first article examined Protocol 126, a blood-cancer experiment that resulted in the death of at least 20 people. The patients and families agreeing to participate in the experiment were never made aware that some of The Hutch’s doctors had a financial interest in drugs being tested in the experiment, nor that there were safer, more effective alternative treatments.
On seattletimes.com, readers have access to a slew of documents, a timeline of Protocol 126 events and a comparison of Protocol 126 to standard treatments.
The second experiment involved breast cancer treatment. It explored the story of a Spokane woman who went into The Hutch for experimental treatment and was never told of serious concerns questioning the effectiveness of the drugs she would be taking – or that another patient had already died from them.
Throughout the online coverage, other articles offer readers links to a glossary of medical terms, lists of additional reading, contact information for health and government officials and a public response option that allows readers to submit their comments on the series.
The articles were published from March 11 to March 15, 2001.
Seattletimes.com received 40,000 to 50,000 hits for “Uninformed Consent.” According to the paper, site traffic increased by 29 percent during the series’ run and first-time readers increased by 8 percent. The paper also received more than 200 e-mails from readers, later posting the reactions on the Web site.
In its nomination letter, The Seattle Times said that “a number of users of the site commented that our online presentation seemed to them to represent a new form of journalism, one in which the user could work through the evidence along with the journalist and decide independently on the issues.”
The array of stories and variety of links helped The Seattle Times stand out, already receiving the Associated Press Managing Editors award for Public Service, the George Polk award and second place for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
“This is investigating reporting at its best,” judges said. “All aspects of this story were well written and documented.”
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Staff of CNET News.com, CNET, Buying Into Trouble
Online journalism sources, such as CNET News.com, are giving print media a run for their money. In “Buying into Trouble,” reporters Dawn Kawaoto and Wylie Wong take on a topic best suited to a technology news site – the heavy-handed business practices of large software companies.
Kawaoto and Wong looked into Oracle, a database giant that deals with the corporate software sales of corporations such as IBM, SAP and Siebel Systems.
It is a scene repeated countless times in the corporate jungle: A company endures months of sales pitches, pays millions of dollars for new software, discovers massive problems, and spends far more to fix the product than the original cost of buying it.
Oracle declined to comment on the report.
The Web coverage allows for detailed sidebars that explain selling tactics and offer video of software gurus. Links to numerous related stories and news accompany the article, providing detailed background information.
“This entry offers a valuable insight into the workings of a large software company,” judges said. “[We] were impressed with the volume of interviews of former Oracle workers and customers to gain an insight into this company; good use of multimedia to supplement text and graphics.”