2012 Winners


Click a category below to access the judges' comments, a video feature about the winners with their acceptance speeches, and their winning entry.


INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: "Forensic Science" is investigative reporting at its most powerful, a story neither prosecutors nor the government wanted out that uncovered known flaws in forensic evidence used to convict thousands. Most importantly, Spencer Hsu exposed the Justice Department's trail of deception to keep the information hidden. It would have been easy to play up the melodrama in a story like this. But Hsu let the mountain of evidence tell the story with a clear, straightforward story. Line after line, he built outrage over the callous, irresponsible behavior of the Justice Department, saving his eloquent and understated narrative voice for the men wrongly convicted and imprisoned. He didn't overdramatize their anger, but instead gave his audience a glimpse into lives shattered with shoddy and inaccurate evidence. The results speak for themselves: two convictions vacated and a Justice Department review of 20,000-plus criminal cases that relied on flawed evidence. This project illustrates that in the face of overwhelming obstacles, such as decades old, redacted documents, an enterprising reporter can develop his own database that ultimately reveals a disturbing truth about flawed science. The inclusion of two video interviews with the principal subjects also brought an intimate and local voice to a story with national implications. His work changed the lives of not only a few, and revealed the value of relentless watchdog journalism.

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BREAKING NEWS


JUDGES' COMMENTS: This entry demonstrates exhaustive, meticulous and comprehensive reporting in words and visuals in a compelling way under deadline pressure and across all platforms. The Denver Post's nimbleness, thoroughness and accuracy stood out on this two-front story: the murder rampage at the theater, and the public safety concern over the shooter's "wired" apartment. The overall coverage was exceptional on both print and digital fronts, including eyewitness accounts, a profile of the shooter, parallels with the Columbine massacre and infographics on the inside of the theater, the guns used by the shooter and his armored gear.

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PUBLIC SERVICE REPORTING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: From the first sentence, introducing a doctor who misled legislators with phony testimony about a child's death, the Chicago Tribune's series "Playing with Fire" exposes the myth that fire retardants protect. They instead put us at risk of absorbing and ingesting toxins that undermine health. In stunning and exhaustive detail, the reporting team explains the myth's unlikely origins as Big Tobacco rebelled decades ago against the expense of developing a cigarette that would go out if you fell asleep on the couch smoking it. What, the industry asked, if instead the emphasis were on making the couch less likely to burn? What unfolded from there is a plotline worthy of Hollywood, as two industries – tobacco and chemical – bought into a strategy that put the idea of a self-extinguishing cigarette to rest for a generation. They collaborated behind closed doors to build a new market for flame-retardant furniture and home products – even as evidence mounted that those chemicals did little or nothing to slow a fire but did pose a risk of cancer and neurological impairment. At its heart, these stories are a tale of how, with manipulation and stealth, corporations and their handmaidens reshaped public opinion: Americans came to accept that flame-retardant products are a must. No more. These stories flipped the conventional wisdom, with almost immediate impact as government revisited regulations and manufacturers pledged to halt production of retardants linked to cancer. What also impressed our judging panel is the timeliness of the series. In 2012 – an election year with so much attention on the corrupting influence of money – the Trib's team documented an example that is textbook, and made it compelling reading.

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EDITORIAL WRITING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: Tim Nickens has a gift for channeling readers' outrage and forcing the issue with people in power without succumbing to the sarcasm and hyperbole too common in political discourse, and he does it in the real time of breaking news. He writes with passion, clarity and compelling logic. Regardless of his topic – voter suppression, water fluoridation, general malfeasance on the part of elected officials – he is quick-witted but not irreverent, hard-hitting but fair. He is also brave. This is what editorials look like when a strong writer combines dogged reporting and fearless advocacy.

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COMMENTARY


JUDGES' COMMENTS: James Carroll's elegant style and historical depth of knowledge combine with his thoughtful, moral point of view to consistently provide his readers with a unique voice. He understands his community but also brings understanding and knowledge to those outside of it.

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HUMAN INTEREST STORYTELLING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: Our winner focused on the ordinary suffering that most people overlook and made us think about the impact of war in ways we had not before. The stories are imbued with compassion, which was one of the hallmarks of Ernie Pyle. He looks at how the families coped. It was a tribute to those who had died in action and all of the people who cared for them. The stories include coverage from the war zone and all the interviews that followed there and back in the United States. It's terrific.

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ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: Kenneth R. Weiss and Rick Loomis delivered comprehensive, compelling, chilling and challenging work on a difficult and often denied subject: global population. Their five-part series for the Los Angeles Times, "Beyond 7 Billion," reflected first-class effort and skill on every level. They asked enormous questions and handled controversial subjects of faith and family, in context, with compassion and sensitivity. Weiss and Loomis struck just the right balance with eye-opening statistics and revealing photographs, respectfully personalized. The video summarizing the story was especially notable.

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DIGITAL INNOVATION


JUDGES' COMMENTS: The New York Times' portfolio demonstrates a variety of fresh and engaging ways to tell stories and do excellent journalism in a digital world. "Snowfall," in particular, pulls you into the story and keeps you there - not with gimmicks but with carefully considered, even elegant techniques that guide you through a harrowing tale.

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PHOTOJOURNALISM


JUDGES' COMMENTS: Lisa Krantz from the San Antonio Express-News showed us a microcosm – a significance piece of history that had likely been overlooked. Her entry included stories of individuals, stories of community, stories of time and place. Her ability to tell stories by capturing moments was consistent throughout her portfolio. Pelham, Texas, is a community that you could drive right past. Krantz stopped, explored the town, and introduced readers to the people who lived there. From her essay, the judges came away with a reminder of the tremendous tribute we pay our communities when we're able to dig deep and bring home stories of great importance.

In the spirit of the Scripps Howard Awards photo competition, not only was her essay compelling, but her other stories and singles showed diversity of topic and approach.

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BUSINESS/ECONOMICS REPORTING


JUDGES' COMMENTS: From Pittsburgh, Pa., to Bonny Island, Africa, tax havens protect trillions of dollars. This series employed deep and broad research to show the ease of hiding money in off-shore accounts, so easy in fact, your suburban next door neighbor could be harboring money from the government. In an innovative twist, for less than a thousand dollars these reporters set up their own shell company and bank account in Belize, a "tax haven."

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COMMUNITY JOURNALISM


JUDGES' COMMENTS: Great community journalism highlights problems that people didn't know exist in their own backyard. Duluth News Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl did this with a disturbing series that revealed pervasive methadone drug abuses marked by hundreds of overdose deaths and an explosion of arrests despite a 60 percent increase in state funding for treatment during a period of five years. Over roughly the past decade, Stahl's reporting disclosed, 392 people in Minnesota died of methadone-involved overdoses, with close to 40 occurring in the region around Duluth. All told during that period, the number of methadone-overdose deaths nearly equaled those who died from firearms in the state. Stahl's digging found that the Duluth methadone clinic had more state and federal violations than any other clinic in Minnesota. Within days of his series appearing, the clinic was shut down. Stahl's superb series was the result of deep research and analysis that relied heavily on a state database of those who have died from drug-related poisonings. He also dug deep into medical records, medical examiner reports, police records and court files. All this was bolstered by extensive interviews with experts, as well as friends and family of those who had died from overdoses. Stahl's writing was clear and passionate, and the Duluth News Tribune translated complex data into clear-headed graphics that were easy for readers to digest. This problem would not have come to light if Stahl and the Duluth News Tribune hadn't invested the time and resources to inform its community. It was first-rate all the way.

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RADIO IN-DEPTH COVERAGE


JUDGES' COMMENTS: WBEZ's series was impressive for its persistence and its impact. Over nine months, the stores peeled back a system that added millions of dollars to the city's coffers by taking advantage of a population you rarely hear about – the families of those in prison. As a result of their powerful reporting and compelling storytelling, the series drove significant changes in the way Cook County does business.

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TELEVISION/CABLE, IN-DEPTH LOCAL COVERAGE


JUDGES' COMMENTS: The judges in this category honored KMGH in Denver with a first-place award as well as a finalist award. KMGH covered the story of the wildfire known as the "Lower Northfork Fire" with great skill and dedication. Three people died and the fire destroyed 22 homes. But KMGH didn't stop when the fire danger passed. The judges were impressed by the level of production and the professional tone of the storytelling, relying on demonstrable fact rather than hyperventilated emotion. This work was a great mix of shoe-leather reporting and telling the human side of such a terrible incident.

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TELEVISION/CABLE IN-DEPTH NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL COVERAGE


JUDGES' COMMENTS: The proliferation of digital recording devices is ushering in a new era of citizen-initiated news coverage. This entry demonstrates how a news outlet can credibly use video reports from eyewitnesses. Dogged fact-checking, top-notch investigation and balanced reporting brought a travesty to light.

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DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO THE FIRST AMENDMENT


JUDGES' COMMENTS: The privacy of ordinary citizens is critical to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court has stated "anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority … It exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation … at the hand of an intolerant society." Today's inexpensive surveillance technologies and data tracking systems invade our privacy. The Journal's reporting team – a new breed of computer-driven journalists – detect and expose the hidden ways in which our personal information is collected and used. This union of the technical and the traditional is designed to watch the watchers; thereby helping preserve First Amendment freedoms. This extensive body of work by the Journal is a free press at its best – evolving to meet modern-day threats to personal liberties unforeseen by our Founding Fathers. Vast amounts of data being collected and held by the government about ordinary citizens going about their daily, law-abiding lives is anathema to the First Amendment.

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Administrator of the Year

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Teacher of the Year

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