2004 Ire Awards Winners and Finalists

Article excerpt

NEWSPAPERS

LARGEST NEWSPAPERS

(MORE THAN 500,000) OR WIRE SERVICE

CERTIFICATE

"Death on the Tracks: How Railroads Sidestep Blame," The New York Times; Walt Bogdanich, Jenny Nordberg, Tom Torok, Eric Koli, Jo Craven McGinty and Claire Hoffman

JUDGES' COMMENTS:

Using a sophisticated computer analysis and good old-fashioned reporting, New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich and his colleagues disclosed the remarkable tale of how railroads have systematically shirked their responsibility to safeguard rail crossings, leading to injury and death on isolated byways across America. Repeatedly, the Times found, motorists were killed at rail crossings that railroads had long known to be dangerous, yet the railroads had often ignored the law requiring them to report fatal accidents to federal authorities, and had neglected their responsibility to correct hazardous conditions. Instead, The Times revealed, some railroads destroyed evidence of fatal accidents, tried to blame mishaps on innocent drivers who had been killed by the railroads' negligence, and shifted the cost of paying for accidents they caused to American taxpayers. The Times series spurred railroads to take corrective actions and led federal officials to tighten procedures for reporting accidents and signal malfunctions.

FINALISTS

* "Captive Clientele," The New York Times: Diana B. Henriques, GIenn Kramon, Bill McDonald. Sarah Slobin and Antoinette Melillo

* "National Institutes of Health: Public Servant or Private Marketer?," Los Angeles Times; David Willman and Janet Lundblad

* "Miscount: An Investigative Series," Scripps Howard News Service; Thomas Hargrove and Michael Collins

* "BALCO steroids case," San Francisco Chronicle; Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada

LARGE NEWSPAPERS

(250,000-500,000)

CERTIFICATE

"Justice Withheld," The Miami Herald; Manny Garcia, Jason Grotto and Judy Miller

JUDGES' COMMENTS:

A shocking computer-assisted investigation into an unsettling Florida plea-bargaining practice known as "withhold of adjudication of guilt," where serious crimes - rape, child molestation, spousal abuse - are wiped off the books. Intended originally to give some first-time offenders a break, withholds had been increasingly used in the clogged Florida courts to the point that more than 17,000 cases involved repeat offenders. Thousands of pedophiles, pornographers and sexual predators admitted their crimes but walked out of the courthouse without a conviction, and serious crimes like theft, wife beating, embezzlement and bribery had been essentially decriminalized. The Herald also found that white offenders were more likely to get the reprieve than blacks. Results were swift: Within months, a new law was on the books limiting the withholds a single offender can get and requiring judges and prosecutors to justify using them.

FINALISTS

* "Cashing in on Disaster," South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Sally Kestin, Megan O'Matz, Luis F. Perez and John Maines

* "The Long Road to Clemency," The Miami Herald; Debbie Cenziper and Jason Grotto

* "Newsday Circulation Scandal," Newsday; James T. Madore, Steve Wick, Tom McGinty, Mark Harrington and Robert Kessler

MEDIUM NEWSPAPERS

(100,000-250,000)

CERTIFICATE

"DWI: Sobering Acquittals, DWI Dismissals," The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer; Ames Alexander, Binyamin Appelbaum, Ted Mellnik, Gary Wright, Liz Chandler, Lisa Hammersly Munn and Henry Eichel

JUDGES' COMMENTS:

Driving while legally drunk, even falling down drunk, was not resulting in convictions for people whose cases went before North Carolina judges who ignored the law, acquitting up to 60 percent of defendants. Sometimes police who made arrests were never even told when to appear in court, allowing defendants to walk free. Using databases from the courts and state records of alcohol tests, and aided by superb graphics, the reporters and the database editor painted a damning portrait of a broken judicial system and the price paid by those maimed or killed by drunk drivers who repeatedly had been let off. …