It’s not a first, but it’s exceedingly rare. This year’s IRE Medal, the highest award for investigative reporting by Investigative Reporters and Editors, went to two broadcast outlets: KRTK and KQED. Only once before in the 18-year history of the medals has broadcast recorded a sweep, when Lee Zurik of WWL was the only winner in 2008 for his investigation of post-Katrina housing fraud in New Orleans. Interestingly, three other broadcast entries were medal finalists that year.
One of this year’s top winners, Wayne Dolcefino of KTRK, the ABC station in Houston, also won a medal the first year the prize was awarded in 1994. Judges described his investigation into local law-enforcement corruption as a “textbook IRE investigation done in a nontraditional style.”
Dolcefino engages the viewer with his irreverent style and high production values, but beneath the entertainment is a rock-solid, water-tight, well-documented investigation. The station made extensive use of FOIA and fought back hard when denied.
Dolcefino’s style isn’t for everyone–thudding music, layered video, undercover camera interviews. But as the IRE judges note, his reporting is what nails the stories, and his stories get results. One target of Dolcefino’s corruption investigation was arrested by the FBI in January. Here’s part one of his award-winning investigation.
One strategy Dolcefino uses that I’d like to single out for applause is getting the target of the investigation on camera and on the air in the first story. Many reporters would have saved that interview for a later piece and teased it to death in the meantime. But that could have raised questions about fairness. Confronting the constable right from the start, Dolcefino is able to use his answers to build the case against him.
The other IRE Medal winner, public TV station KQED in San Francisco, shared the award with California Watch, a nonprofit founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting. In a series of reports entitled “On Shaky Ground,” they found that thousands of schools statewide may not be earthquake-safe.
Reporters dug through more than 30,000 pages of documents, created online maps and databases and visited schools throughout the state to get the story. It took 19 months, but the reporters found California officials abrogated their oversight duties and allowed more than 42,000 children to attend schools with serious safety issues.
Here’s the special report that aired on public TV stations across California.
This report also got results. As the IRE judges write, “State lawmakers ordered audits and investigations, and new state standards were created to allow schools to more easily tap into a fund to repair seismic hazards.” It’s worth pointing out that reporter Anna Werner is also a multiple IRE award winner, who has two duPonts, two Peabodies and a George Polk Award to her credit as well. She’s now a correspondent for CBS News, based in Dallas.
One more winner of note: the indefatigable Lee Zurik, now at WVUE in New Orleans, who won an IRE award for an investigation into government fraud and corruption that also led to criminal charges. Here’s just one of his award-winning stories:
As always, the work recognized by IRE is impressive and inspiring and there’s a lesson in that. It doesn’t take a network news budget to do great TV journalism. Sure, it’s not cheap and it’s time consuming to produce stories like this. But what’s most important is the kind of dedication and persistence this year’s winners showed in sinking their teeth into meaty local stories and refusing to let go. Congratulations to all.