‘Oregonian’ Takes Top Honor in First Philip Meyer Investigative Awards

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By: E&P Staff

Investigative probes of the nation’s methamphetamine epidemic, systemic failures in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the loss of Florida’s wetlands were named today as winners of the first Philip Meyer Awards.

The Meyer Awards recognize the best uses of social science methods in journalism. They are administered by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (a joint program of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Missouri School of Journalism), and the Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

First Place went to The Oregonian (Portland) for “Unnecessary Epidemic,” a series of articles showing how Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration could have stopped the growth of meth abuse by aggressively regulating the import of the chemicals necessary to make it. Lead reporter Steve Suo’s work included sophisticated statistical analyses of data on hospital and treatment center admissions, arrests, meth prices and purity, and chemical imports.

Second Place: Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau for “Discharged and Dishonored,” a series of stories that revealed how disabled veterans were being harmed by the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Reporters Chris Adams and Alison Young analyzed survey data and the VA’s own database of 3.4 million claims to discover that more than 13,700 veterans died while waiting for their claims to be resolved, and as many as 572,000 vets may be missing out on their rightful disability payments.

Third Place: The St. Petersburg Times, for “Vanishing Wetlands,” which demonstrated that 84,000 acres of Florida wetlands have been destroyed by development since 1990 when President George H. W. Bush declared a national policy of no net loss of wetlands. Reporters Matthew Waite and Craig Pittman penetrated beyond the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ poorly-documented records of development permits by using before-and-after satellite imagery and geographical information systems software to accurately measure the loss.

The awards are in honor of Philip Meyer, the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer is the author of “Precision Journalism,” the 1973 book that encouraged journalists to incorporate social science methods in the pursuit of better journalism. As a reporter, he also pioneered using survey research for Knight-Ridder newspapers while exploring the causes of race riots in the 1960s.

The awards will be presented March 10 at the IRE and NICAR Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in Newark, N.J. The first-place winner will receive $500; second and third will receive $300 and $200.

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