BGA Named Finalist in 2018 Knight Award for Public Service

The joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WBEZ, “Taking Cover,” was honored by the Online News Association at the 2018 Online Journalism Awards.

The nation’s top online news organization has announced the Better Government Association and WBEZ were finalists for one of the group’s highest honors for its multi-part investigation that examined lax oversight of suburban police.

The Online News Association named “Taking Cover” as a finalist for the Knight Award for Public Service, a prize recognizing digital journalism that performs a public service for a defined and specific community through compelling coverage of a vital community issue or event.

The investigation, which was the product of a partnership between the BGA and WBEZ, detailed how police shootings in the suburbs are handled. Reporters found that since 2005 there had been at least 113 police shootings in suburban Cook County in which officers shot unarmed suspects, innocent bystanders and even each other yet not a single officer involved was ever disciplined, fired or charged criminally. What’s more, only a few of the shootings were even reviewed for misconduct.

The stories revealed the suburban departments rarely conducted independent investigations of police shootings and instead relied on Illinois State Police, whose investigators only examined if police broke the law in a shooting, not whether they followed proper policies or procedures. 

Elected officials in Cook County and Springfield took actions following the reports, with the Cook County Sheriff offering assistance for departments to conduct administrative investigations. Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed into law legislation that unanimously passed the General Assembly requiring all police shootings in the state to undergo an internal review for policy violations or procedural mistakes.

The report consisted of four written pieces, five radio segments and an interactive database that made records and data used in the reporting of the series available to the public. It was reported by Casey Toner and Jared Rutecki of the BGA and Patrick Smith of WBEZ. Patrick Judge, the BGA’s Web & Graphics Editor, designed and created the graphics for the project.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting won the Knight Award for its project “All Work. No Pay,” which examined how big business and operators of rehab clinics have forced people with addiction into working for no pay. Other finalists included the Washington Post and a collaboration by NPR and ProPublica.

ONA is the world’s largest association of online journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public.