The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism on Friday took home 14 prizes in the 2017 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism contest, including four awards shared with its reporting partner, Wisconsin Public Radio.
The awards honored coverage of immigration, flawed forensic science, wrongful convictions, the use of long-term solitary confinement, poor treatment of state whistleblowers, a rise in hate incidents in Wisconsin, the controversial anti-feminism men’s group known as the Proud Boys, and the dangers of lead, bacteria and other contaminants in drinking water. The Center also was honored for photography and illustration.
In all, the Center and collaborative stories with WPR received five gold prizes, eight silvers and a bronze. In addition, Center intern Katie Scheidt received a gold prize in the student category for best still photos; they were published in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Curb Magazine.
The Center now has received a total of 62 awards since 2011 in the Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism contest, the state’s premiere all-media journalism competition.
Sharing several awards with the Center was Alexandra Hall, a former Wisconsin Public Radio Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow, who was embedded in the Center’s newsroom last year. Mukhtar Ibrahim and Katherine Proctor, investigative reporting fellows from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, also produced award-winning coverage.
UW-Madison students, working as paid Center interns or in classroom collaborations, played important roles in five of the award-winning entries. The Center’s collaborations with journalism students are funded in part by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW-Madison. Joint projects with the Medill Justice Project and HuffPost also received recognition.
“With deep gratitude, we accept these awards on behalf of the hundreds of people who made this journalism possible, sometimes through courageous acts of speaking truth to power, sometimes through financial sacrifice to fund the work, sometimes through great professional skill and persistence to illuminate critical state issues,” said Executive Director Andy Hall, who co-founded the independent nonprofit and nonpartisan Center in 2009 with Managing Editor Dee J. Hall.
“We promise to keep digging, and to keep training the next generation of investigative journalists, who are so important to the future of our democracy.”
The Center’s winners are:
Best Public Service Story or Series:
Reporter Cara Lombardo and Multimedia and Digital Director Coburn Dukehart for a story that reveals missed opportunities by Gov. Scott Walker, lawmakers and Milwaukee city leaders to reduce the risk of lead in Wisconsin’s drinking water. This story was part of the Center’s national award-winning Failure at the Faucet series.
Best Explanatory Story or Series:
Coburn Dukehart, Dee J. Hall and Riley Vetterkind for the Center and Alexandra Hall, reporting for both Wisconsin Public Radio and the Center, for a package of stories that document the crucial importance of immigrant labor in the nation’s No. 2 milk-producing state. One story, reported in collaboration with HuffPost, examines how the demand for immigrant labor is driven in part by the declining population in many of Wisconsin’s rural counties.
Best Investigative Story or Series:
Dee J. Hall, Katherine Proctor, Emma Schatz and Coburn Dukehart for Flawed Forensics, a series that examines the now-discredited technique of microscopic hair comparison to tie suspects to crimes. The report found a justice system loathe to uncover and correct its own mistakes, some of which have led to wrongful convictions.
Best Investigative Report — Audio:
Alexandra Hall, reporting for both Wisconsin Public Radio and the Center, for an audio report that reveals that the FBI admits errors in 90 percent of hair and fiber cases. Such errors are now a factor in one-fifth of all DNA exonerations. The case involving Richard Beranek is among 13 in Wisconsin in which the FBI acknowledges it used flawed microscopic hair comparison.
Best Long Hard Feature Story — Audio:
Alexandra Hall, reporting for both Wisconsin Public Radio and the Center, for an audio report that examines the Proud Boys, a pro-Western, anti-feminism men’s club.
Best Series Reporting — Audio:
Alexandra Hall, reporting for both Wisconsin Public Radio and the Center, for an audio report that explores how Wisconsin dairy farmers are struggling to keep their immigrant workers since Donald Trump was elected president.
Best Coverage of a Single News Topic of Event Including Breaking News:
Coburn Dukehart for a story reporting on the widespread water contamination in Kewaunee County and geology which makes its groundwater particularly vulnerable to contamination by human waste and manure from dairy farms.
Best Multi-Story Coverage of a Single Feature Topic or Event:
Mukhtar Ibrahim, Alexandra Hall, Riley Vetterkind and Coburn Dukehart for a package of stories that examines a rise in hate and bias incidents in Wisconsin, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents. One story profiles the Proud Boys, a pro-Western, anti-feminism men’s club. These stories were produced in collaboration with Documenting Hate, ProPublica’s national reporting project.
Best Use of Multi-Platform Reporting:
Alexandra Arriaga, Coburn Dukehart and Dee J. Hall for the Center, Alexandra Hall, reporting for both Wisconsin Public Radio and the Center, and artist Emily Shullaw for a story that revealed some inmates had remained in solitary confinement for years or even decades, causing all types of psychological harm. Because the Center was forbidden from photographing, recording or speaking to any of the inmates, journalists decided to use a multi-platform report to paint a picture of these men’s lives. The package featured an online/print story by Arriaga, an audio report by Alexandra Hall, illustrations by Shullaw; a video produced by Dukehart featuring Shullaw’s illustrations and voice actors reading inmates’ responses to survey questions; and an audio interview by Dee J. Hall with an inmate released from administrative confinement after nearly 28 years in isolation.
Best Investigative Story or Series — Online:
This collaborative story examining alleged evidence tampering in the Kenneth Hudson murder case was reported by Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Courtnee Brinker, Abhinanda Datta, Shahzeb Hashim, Lauren Jensik, Holly Kane, Hannah Moulthrop and Ezra Solomon of Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project. From the outset, Hudson has claimed he was innocent of murder and that police poured and smeared a red liquid on him. This story investigates the hard-to-explain DNA results in which blood red stains now yield either no DNA or just a profile consistent with Hudson. Hudson claims that police or prosecutors had destroyed or tampered with the samples to hide the true source of the red liquid.
Best Feature Photograph:
Coburn Dukehart for “Undocumented on the Dairy.”
Best News Photograph:
Coburn Dukehart for “Scott Walker’s Wink”
Best Illustration or Cartoon:
Artist Emily Shullaw for an original painting depicting in stark detail the anguish reported by inmates in administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement for which there is no set end date. This painting was created as part of a series of original paintings and illustrations based on Center surveys that were completed by inmates in solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons.
Best Public Service Story or Series — Online:
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism staff, along with UW-Madison students for Broken Whistle, a series that explores Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on waste, fraud and abuse and the dwindling protections and incentives for whistleblowers in Wisconsin. The series was launched in the fall of 2017 based primarily on reporting by a UW-Madison investigative reporting class taught by the Center’s managing editor, Dee J. Hall. Students participating in the project were Gretchen Christensen, Peter Coutu, Rosario Dominguez, Bobby Ehrlich, Catherine Goslin, Taylor Palmby, Elias Radtke, Julie Spitzer, Madeline Sweitzer, Leo Varotella, Helu Wang, Madeline Westberg and Kruti Yellapantula with assistance from Cara Lombardo.