Recognizing Excellence: The Nieman Foundation Becomes a Home for Two Investigative Journalism Awards

Article excerpt

Investigative reporting has always been central to the Nieman experience. Journalists specializing in investigative work continue to populate Nieman classes. Speakers address the topic at seminars and workshops. The Nieman Watchdog project (www.niemanwatehdog. org) offers a platform to reinforce an essential element of watchdog reporting: asking probing questions. For more than 60 years, Nieman Reports has published stories examining the craft of investigative journalism, and in this issue it carries forward that tradition under the theme of 21st Century Muckrakers.

This legacy influenced recent decisions by the Nieman Foundation to administer two awards that honor independent investigative journalism:

* The Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Reporting

* The I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.

The press remains an essential national institution in its job of independently probing for facts about wrongdoing or information the government wants to shield from its citizens. Its watchdog role is never more vital than during a national crisis. In a time of economic challenges for news companies, however, deep concern is emerging that a commitment to such public service journalism is waning. Shrinking news staffs and diminishing reportorial resources are worrisome indicators that many daily news organizations will no longer support a serious investment in investigative reporting.

Linking the Nieman name with these awards is an opportunity to reinforce independent investigative reporting by recognizing excellence. To be sure, the awards are distinctive in their purpose.

The Worth Bingham Prize honors newspaper or magazine investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is ill served. Worth was heir to his family's newspaper holdings in Louisville when he was killed in an automobile accident in 1966. The Worth Bingham Memorial Fund was established, and the initial prize was given the following year.

Joan Bingham, Worth's widow, and their daughter Clara, who have overseen the prize program, approached us a year ago with the idea that the Nieman Foundation might have an interest in creating an archive for the winning entries. As these discussions moved along, they led to a broader discussion about establishing the Nieman Foundation as home for the prize. …