Finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School is proud to announce the six finalists for the 2022 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. The Goldsmith Prize, founded in 1991 and funded by a gift from the Greenfield Foundation, honors the best public service investigative journalism that has made an impact on local, state, or federal public policy or the practice of politics in the United States. Finalists receive $10,000, and the winner – to be announced at a virtual ceremony on April 5 – receives $25,000. All prize monies go to the journalist or team that produced the reporting.

Wires and Fires

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
Raquel Rutledge, John Diedrich, Daphne Chen 

Read the reporting: https://www.jsonline.com/in-depth/news/investigations/reports/2021/08/25/electrical-fires-milwaukee-pose-higher-risk-poor-black-renters/8061243002/ 

Electrical fires are often treated as accidents in Milwaukee, but an investigation by reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that they are actually foreseeable tragedies that hit Black renters by far the hardest, with the government doing little to fix the problem. As part of their reporting, the team hired a master electrician to inspect a random selection of homes in Milwaukee’s hardest-hit area, which found that 80% of single and two-family rental properties in the study area had serious electrical problems. The investigation prompted an immediate outcry by leaders in state government and prompted city officials to reexamine and potentially restore an inspection program previously mothballed by state lawmakers. The city is also launching a tenant education program around the issue of electrical safety and is examining potential requirements for city agencies to better document electrical fires. 

Juvenile Injustice, Tennessee

Nashville Public Radio’s WPLN News and ProPublica
Meribah Knight, Ken Armstrong 

Read the reporting: https://www.propublica.org/article/black-children-were-jailed-for-a-crime-that-doesnt-exist 

In 2016, police arrested four Black girls at an elementary school in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Through more than 50 records requests and hundreds of hours of audio and video, reporters from WPLN and ProPublica uncovered a deeply unjust juvenile justice system that illegally arrested and jailed children, and disproportionately detained Black children. They discovered that the four girls, one as young as 8, were arrested for a crime that does not exist, in an investigation led by an officer who had been disciplined 37 times, on charges approved by judicial commissioners without law degrees, in a system overseen by a judge who failed the bar exam four times, in a county whose policy for locking up kids violated Tennessee law but was missed by inspectors year after year. Members of Congress have called for a federal civil rights investigation, and some members of the Tennessee legislature have called for the judge’s ouster. After the story was published, the judge announced she would be retiring at the end of her term this summer. 

Sacrifice Zones:Mapping Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution

ProPublica, in collaboration with The Texas Tribune and Mountain State Spotlight
Lylla Younes, Al Shaw, Ava Kofman, Lisa Song, Max Blau, Maya Miller, Kiah Collier, Alyssa Johnson and Ken Ward, Jr. 

Read the reporting: https://www.propublica.org/article/toxmap-poison-in-the-air 

In an unprecedented data analysis and interactive map, ProPublica revealed more than 1,000 hot spots of toxic industrial air pollution that the EPA has allowed to spread across America, elevating the cancer risk of more than a fifth of the nation’s population, including 256,000 people exposed to threat levels the agency deems unacceptably high. The series captured how the EPA, through weak policies and calculated choices, created “sacrifice zones” where overlooked communities next door to toxic manufacturing plants bear disproportionate health costs so that consumers can enjoy the products made there. The interactive map at the heart of this reporting provides residents – for the first time – with a way to see their own estimated risk from air pollution. As a result of this reporting the EPA committed to looking into hot spots, and pledged new cumulative risk guidelines and a “more robust” analysis of air pollution. More than 76 local news outlets reported on the findings from their area, expanding awareness of local air pollution risks and prompting local activism. 

Poisoned

The Tampa Bay Times with support from PBS FRONTLINE
Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington and Eli Murray  

Read the reporting: https://projects.tampabay.com/projects/2021/investigations/lead-factory/ 

Hillsborough County had the highest number of adult lead poisonings in all of Florida. Reporters from the Tampa Bay Times set out to discover why. They interviewed more than 100 current and former employees at a local battery recycling plant suspected to be the cause. Johnson, Woolington and Murray gathered over 100,000 pages of documents and hundreds of photos and videos from employees that showed the perilous conditions inside the factory. They even became certified lead inspectors as they exposed how the factory had contaminated the surrounding community. After the initial parts of the series ran, OSHA sent inspectors into the plant for the first time in five years, confirmed the Times’ reporting, and issued one of the steepest fines in recent Florida history. Local children were screened for lead, and county regulators increased monitoring and oversight of the company, which also saw its credit rating downgraded and was driven to improve its safety systems. The Times’ project was supported by PBS FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which provided partial funding and consultation.   

FEMA’s Disasters

The Washington Post
Hannah Dreier, Andrew Ba Tran 

Read the reporting: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/10/17/disaster-survivors-fema-housing-trailer 

Washington Post reporters spent 2021 traversing the corners of the country most ravaged by natural disasters to find out if the government really has people’s backs in the long-term. The reporters conducted 300 interviews and several databases, filed dozens of records requests, and analyzed thousands of pages of individual Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) case records and other documents. What they found was that FEMA was regularly not providing help when it was needed for survivors of disasters. They chronicled the agency denying help to Black families living on land passed down since a generation after slavery, abandoning poor families without assistance for transitioning out of FEMA trailer parks as they shut down, and denying aid to 90% of disaster survivors, often for minor errors in their paperwork. This reporting led to major process changes at FEMA to directly address these issues, and bipartisan legislation currently working its way through Congress. 

Unresponsive

The Wichita Eagle/Kansas.com
Chance Swaim, Michael Stavola  

Read the reporting: https://www.kansas.com/news/local/article252675078.html 

In this months-long investigation into Sedwick County EMS – the lone ambulance provider for more than half a million people – reporters at The Wichita Eagle uncovered a public safety crisis that put an entire community at risk. Through open records, leaked documents, interviews, and direct research, the reporters built a database of response times, and direct testimony to back it up, that showed the department had dangerously slow response times and staffing shortages driven by mismanagement. While under the EMS director’s leadership, the department had fallen from one of the best in the Midwest to one that showed up late for over 11,000 potentially fatal emergency calls in two years. The series led to the prompt ousting of the EMS director, an apology by the county manager for his slow response to the crisis, and most importantly – a massive overhaul of the county’s EMS service. 

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