Polk Awards Announced — Honor 8 Papers From New York To Oregon

By: Joe Strupp

Eight newspapers, from The New York Times to the weekly Lakefront Outlook of Chicago, were named winners of the George K. Polk Awards on Tuesday. Long Island University presents the prizes named for the famed reporter.

Among the subjects that earned prize winners their honors were the Darfur genocide, housing rip-offs in Florida, environmental dangers, and mental illness among soldiers in Iraq. Spike Lee also won for his HBO film about New Orleans after Katrina.

The awards will be presented in New York City on April 12.

New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen took the foreign reporting award for her coverage of “the war-torn western regions of Sudan,” the release stated. “Her courageous and often exclusive reporting gave voice to the victims of the conflict,” judges added. “Terrified villagers and displaced survivors – alerting the world to their suffering and to the regional spread of the violence as it extended into neighboring Chad.”

The Hartford Courant’s Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman were honored with the military reporting prize for a four-part series titled, “Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight,” which reported on the “high rate of suicide among American troops and the lackluster mental health screening and treatment offered by the military.”

Robert Little of The Sun of Baltimore, is honored in the medical reporting category for his three-part series, “Dangerous Remedy,” which investigated the use of an experimental, blood-coagulating drug, Recombinant Activated Factor VII, in more than 1,000 soldiers.

Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling of the Los Angeles Times took the environmental reporting award for a five-part investigation, “Altered Oceans,” which looked at “far-flung, yet alarming phenomena such as virulent rashes suffered by fishermen in Australia, brain-damaged sea lions washing up onto California’s coast, red tides sickening beachgoers in Florida and the deaths of 200,000 albatross chicks on Midway Atoll.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Forelle, James Bandler and Mark Maremont won for business reporting. They revealed the “widespread practice of backdating stock-option awards that allow executives to buy low and sell high, greatly increasing their compensation. The stories shook corporate giants from Apple to UnitedHealth Group and triggered federal investigations into whether shareholders were deceived at more than 130 companies.”

In national reporting, it was Jeff Kosseff, Bryan Denson and Les Zaitz of The Oregonian in Portland for their ongoing reports that “uncovered the failure of a multibillion-dollar federal program that was intended to help people with severe disabilities find employment. Instead, the program created a booming industry that awarded executives handsomely but left disabled workers in segregated jobs often paying less than minimum wage.”

For “House of Lies,” a year-long investigation into the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, Debbie Cenziper of The Miami Herald won the metropolitan reporting prize. “With dogged determination, she documented pervasive mismanagement and misspending by one of the nation’s biggest housing agencies that allowed developers and well-connected consultants to amass millions of dollars while
families suffered in shelters and rat-infested buildings,” judges said. “Her efforts prompted a wide-ranging criminal investigation and the firing of top housing officials. In addition, families were granted stepped-up emergency housing repairs and rental assistance from the county.”

Finally, local reporting honored the staff of the Lakefront Outlook, a free-circulation, Chicago weekly, where four reporters and an intern “tackled the complex investigation of the $19.5-million Harold Washington Cultural Center, which had been touted by Third Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman as ‘the cornerstone of historic Bronzeville’s economic and cultural rebirth.’ Instead, the team exposed the Center as a money-losing operation that was staffed by Tillman’s family, friends and political cronies.”

Other non-newspaper winners included Ray Ring, northern Rockies editor for High Country News, who won the political reporting award for following “the money trail that financed referendum campaigns against land-use regulations in six Western states;” Spike Lee and Sam Pollard, who will receive the documentary television prize for their two-part HBO series, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina;” NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, where senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers and producer Adam Ciralsky garnered the television reporting award for coverage of a secret effort by the United States Army to “scuttle a promising technology designed to protect soldiers from rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs;” and producers of “Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet;” a radio report on the early impact of global warming on citizens of Bangladesh, the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand, and other nations,

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