Category Archives: Journalism awards

Crime at the Polks

Here are the criminal-justice-journalism winners at one of the industry’s major awards, the Polk Awards, announced yesterday, quoting the descriptions from the press release:

Award for Justice Reporting

Julie K. Brown of The Miami Herald and two New York Times reporters, Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip, will share the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting for uncovering appalling evidence of guards brutalizing inmates at correction and detention facilities. The officers acted with impunity even when the abuse led to profound injury and death.

Brown found that a 50-year-old inmate who died in custody at the Dade Correctional Facility had been locked in a hot shower and scalded to death. Her reporting further established that police, prosecutors, and a medical examiner had abetted prison authorities in covering up that case and others across Florida. Top officials were replaced, dozens of guards were fired, fresh approaches to incarcerating the mentally ill have been undertaken, and criminal investigations are underway as a result of the reporting.
“Behind bars, a brutal and unexplained death”
“At a violent Florida prison, a death foreshadowed”
“For allegedly brutal prison guard, day of reckoning arrives”

Schwirtz and Winerip exposed a pattern of abuse of inmates—some beaten while they were handcuffed—in New York City’s jail complex on Rikers Island, using records and interviews to compile 129 instances of serious injury at the hands of frontline officers and supervisors in a single year. They reported that officials cleansed an audit of its most damning instances of brutality and curtailed other probes at the behest of an influential union chief who shut down the entire court transportation system one morning so an inmate scheduled to testify against officers could not appear. These and other revelations have spurred resignations, dismissals, new investigations, and a Justice Department lawsuit seeking to place city jails under federal oversight.
“Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail”
“Report Found Distorted Data on Jail Fights at Rikers Island”
“At Rikers Island, Union Chief’s Clout is a Roadblock to Reform”

Award for Local Reporting

The George Polk Award for Local Reporting will go to Tim NovakChris Fusco, and Carol Marin of The Chicago Sun-Times for dogged investigative reports in the face of considerable resistance by police and prosecutors over a 10-year-old homicide case involving a nephew of Richard M. Daley, the former Chicago mayor and Cook County state attorney. Their reporting reopened the case and led to a guilty plea by the former mayor’s nephew. A special prosecutor affirmed Sun-Times’ accounts that the killer had been shielded from prosecution in what amounted to an elaborate conspiracy.
“The Killing of David Koschman”

Award for State Reporting

Four reporters at The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.—Doug PardueGlenn SmithJennifer Berry Hawes, and Natalie Caula Hauff—will receive the George Polk Award for State Reporting for “Till Death Do Us Part,” a five-part series on the domestic abuse deaths of 300 women in the past decade—one every 12 days. They uncovered a culture of violence in South Carolina, where male abusers face a maximum of 30 days in jail for brutalizing a woman but up to five years in prison for cruelty to a dog. The state has 65 county animal shelters but just 18 safe houses for battered women. The Post and Courier‘s reporting began after the Violence Police Center called South Carolina’s rate of male-on-female homicides the worst in the nation. Their work evoked a strong response from state political leaders vowing reforms. The Center for Investigative Reporting consulted on and provided funding for this project.
“Till Death Do Us Part”

ASME’s crime finalists

The National Magazine Award finalists — aka the Ellies, or the ASMEs (after the American Society of Magazine Editors) — have been announced. Given their status as the top award for magazine journalism, I’ve plucked out the reported crime narratives that made the cut. All of these appeared on this blog in my critiques (found mostly here) or my Criminal-Justice Nightstand Reading lists. Here they are with links, and with my congratulations to these talented reporters and writers:

Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly, “The Witness,” about a woman suffering in the aftermath of witnessing too many executions.

Andrew Solomon, The New Yorker, “The Reckoning,” about the father of Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza.

Michael Finkel, GQ, “The Last True Hermit,” about the man in Maine who lived in isolation, breaking in and stealing provisions, for decades.

Evan Hughes, The Atavist, “The Trials of White Boy Rick,” about a juvenile lifer caught up in Detroit’s drug trade.

David Bernstein and Noah Isackson, Chicago magazine, “The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates,” a deep and savvy look at crime stats.

Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker, “The Hunt for El Chapo,” about the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera.

Emily Yoffe, Slate, “The Campus Rape Overcorrection,” on how university rules can be unjust toward rape suspects.

Luke Malone, Medium, “You’re 16. You’re a pedophile,” about the lack of treatment options.

(Hat tip to for speedily collecting the links.)

Crime-story winners at Online Journalism Awards

One of the values of journalism contests is that they curate good stuff, a kind of “in-case-you-missed-it” aid in the never-ending search for quality.

The Online News Association’s Online Journalism Awards have made themselves an important player in the contest world. But the page announcing the winners, revealed over the weekend, is not particularly helpful in flagging certain topics.

So here’s the crime-journalism slice of those awards, helpfully curated by yours truly:

Knight Award for Public Service: Miami Herald, “Innocents Lost”child abuse

Explanatory Reporting, Medium Market: Baltimore Sun, Breaking the Silence”male victims of sexual assault in the military

Planned News/Events, Medium Market: Mother Jones, Newtown One Year After — mass shootings and community trauma

Al Neuhart Innovation in Investigative Journalism, Large Market: USA Today, “Fugitives Next Door” criminal fugitives

University of Florida Award in Investigative Data Journalism, Small/Medium Market: Minnesota Public Radio, “Betrayed By Silence”coverup of child sexual abuse by priests

This serves as a reminder to us readers that there is quality work out there if we bother to look for it. That’s one key function of this blog and its related social feeds. But, considering that I didn’t see some of these projects when they were published, it’s important that everyone who cares about quality call attention to it and drive traffic to it. Congrats to these winners.

One woman writer bucks the Ellie trend

ASME this week has justifiably been slammed for a batch of Ellie finalists that names no women writers in the so-called major categories. I say so-called because I happen to think public interest ranks right up there. The naming of finalists (and eventually winners) always prompts me to read important pieces I missed the first time around. That was the case with this Harper’s feature by Kathy Dobie in the February 2011 issue.

I dare anyone to read the story, “Tiny Little Laws: A plague of sexual violence in Indian Country,” and not feel sick with shame and rage. Dobie’s reporting included a deep dive into reports and stats, plus five weeks on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs blocked her access at every opportunity. She persevered to tell a searing tale of rank injustice for rape victims. Thanks to a tangle of overlapping jurisdictions, impotent laws, and negligent law enforcement — all of which Dobie explains with clarity in powerful, simple prose — sex crimes routinely go unpunished. She shows the effects: flashes of vigilante justice, but more often a culture of helplessness and hopelessness. Dobie writes,

On many reservations, women have given up on the idea of justice and have come to consider sexual assault as just another part of their rough lot. When I asked the head of a women’s shelter on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota for the prior year’s figures on reported rapes, she said there hadn’t been any, and then laughed gruffly. “We used to have thirty to forty reported rapes a month,” she told me. “Now we get one.” Since no other crime statistic was going down and the reservation was, in fact, getting more lawless every year—her shelter kept filling up with bruised and beaten women who, if you asked gently, would almost always reveal that yes, they had been sexually assaulted at this or that time in their lives—one official report of rape a month could only mean that rape victims had stopped going to the police.

Dobie gives voice to victims, and to the few who give them aid and comfort, with scenes a reader can’t soon forget. At times the story feels scattershot, skipping from one problem to the next. But then that’s the point: an accumulation of wide-ranging horrors; a broken, unjust system. There’s another point this makes as well: Dobie did women writers proud with this one.

No shortage of thoughtful crime stories

It’s tempting to generalize about “the media” and fret that journalists routinely fail to educate the public about the true nature of crime and punishment. Certainly we don’t lack for examples of exploitative, ignorant storytelling. So it’s instructive to be reminded there is a whole lot of quality journalism about criminal justice. Here’s a list of contest winners (with some links to the originals) recognized by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. (Hat tip, Crime and Justice News)

Polk Award to Sandusky story’s scoop artist


Good to see this: Sara Ganim, the 24-year-old crime reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who broke the Penn State scandal story, has won a Polk Award. Yes, that’s a big deal for a local crime reporter, especially one so young. Here’s an archive of her newspaper’s coverage. And here’s the blurb from today’s award announcement:

Sara Ganim of The Patriot-News will receive the George Polk Award for Sports Reporting for her outstanding coverage of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Ganim, in March 2011, was the first to report that longtime Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — second only to head coach Joe Paterno in the Penn State pantheon — was being investigated for child sex abuse. While most newspapers and television stations ignored the story, Ganim, a Penn State graduate, continued to write about the investigation, and on Nov. 4 she was the first to report that Sandusky had been indicted. Even after media coverage of the indictment and the university’s alleged cover-up became national news, Ganim, who already had spent over two years on the story, continued to lead the pack, uncovering new information on the scandal that led to the removal of Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier.

Watchdog journalism wins criminal-justice reporting awards

What topics got aired in stories winning or placing in the just-announced John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim 2012 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards?

  • The FBI’s use of informants in investigations of the Muslim community (Trevor Aaronson of Mother Jones magazine).
  • Police discipline (Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
  • Sex and rape in women’s prisons (Kelly Virella of City Limits Investigates).
  • Military justice (Marisa Taylor and Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers).

Congrats to the winners. To see daily examples of this sort of reporting, subscribe to the daily digest produced by the same folks who give out these awards: Ted Gest’s Crime and Justice News.