WBBM-TV’s Coverage of a Botched Police Raid Takes Top Honors in 2021 Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting
A traumatic story of a police raid on the wrong home—which the City of Chicago tried and failed to suppress in federal court before it aired—won first place in the Better Government Association's (BGA) 2021 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting.
WBBM's powerful story, My Name is Anjanette Young, also won the Readers' Choice Award, collecting a total of $16,000 in prizes at the BGA's virtual award ceremony on June 8.
Ms. Young's story emerged from a three-year investigation that uncovered a pattern of sloppy police work that led the Chicago Police Department to raid the wrong homes, mostly in poor Black and Latino communities. Ms. Young was naked when officers burst into her house and handcuffed her, while she repeatedly protested that they were in the wrong place. The subject of the warrant lived next door—and was under electronic monitoring at the time.
"It turned into an investigation about transparency," noted investigative reporter Dave Savini, as city officials refused to release police records and bodycam footage. WBBM's ongoing reporting—which also won second place in the 2020 Driehaus Foundation Awards—has helped lead to a new CPD search warrant policy and an enforcement action under a federal consent decree seeking an end to abusive and discriminatory police practices.
The winning story was a solid example of how dogged investigative journalism can remedy wrongs. This year's Driehaus Foundation awards honored crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, who once said, "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." Each of the 27 complex and powerful works of investigative journalism submitted aimed to reveal and remedy wrongdoing.
'Imagine What Happens' Without Investigations
Investigative reporters "still have a critical role to play in society," said guest speaker Ron Nixon, global investigations editor at The Associated Press. Nixon pointed out that "because of reporting that's done, you see people get out of jail, folks not poisoned, dangerous products [taken] off the market, politicians resigning after wrongdoing is exposed."
"Take us out of the equation and imagine what happens," Nixon said.
With stories like the BGA's "The Failures before the Fires," investigative reporters do an excellent service pulling together the big picture, Nixon said. “In cities with declining resources, things like following up on violations can fall through the cracks and get forgotten. Also, the media tend to [cover] these things sort of episodically. Nobody puts the whole picture together.”
"When we do pull all the details together, these things are critically important because, many times, the government is finding out stuff from US," Nixon said. "We're the ones pointing out that there are no controls here; people are dying here; Then they react."
Nixon, who said he stumbled into investigative reporting almost accidentally early in his career, is now helping to bring more journalists of color into the field. He is co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society. This news trade organization works to increase the ranks, retention and profile of reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting, according to the society's website.
"When you look back at the history of investigative reporting, people like Woodward & Bernstein come up if you're more modern but Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, that whole muckraking thing, Upton Sinclair and The Jungle—that's what you're inundated with," Nixon said. There's less recognition for Wells, a pioneering black journalist who documented lynchings and the circumstances behind them in the 1890s.
Great Black journalism "has existed, but the thing is, we just didn't know the history of it, so as a result, we don't think of ourselves as going into this," he said. It's essential to have diverse perspectives not just among reporters but from editors and those in decision-making positions in the newsroom, Nixon noted.
The value of different perspectives is not limited to race. Discussing how his AP investigative team covered the Jan. 6 insurrection both as breaking news and with deeper investigative techniques, Nixon noted that one reporter noticed that the Proud Boys were using military formations. He spotted this because he, like Nixon, was a veteran.
The BGA is grateful to the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the late Richard H. Driehaus for making it possible to honor outstanding investigative journalism annually. Marta Carreiera-Slabe, the vice-chair of the BGA Board of Directors and awards presentation host, noted that these awards provide career-defining recognition.
Anne Lazar of the Driehaus Foundation announced winning stories and the outstanding teams who produced them.
First Place: My Name is Anjanette Young $15,000
Dave Savini, Samah Assad, Michele Youngerman, Mike Klingele, DeAndra Taylor, Reed Nolan, Don Stanke, Alfredo Roman, Chris McKnight, Dave Kenebrew, Tim Viste, Lana Hinshaw-Klann, Tony Diasio, Tiffani Lupenski and Jeff Harris
Second Place: COVID-19 Inequities $7,000
Third Place: Where Banks Don't Lend $3,000
City Bureau & WBEZ
Linda Lutton, Andrew Fan Alden Loury, Aaron Allen, and Ashish Valentine
Readers' Choice: My Name is Anjanette Young $1,000
Other nominated finalists include:
Chip Mitchell and Rob Wildeboer, with Katherine Nagasawa and Manuel Martinez
Chicago Tribune & ProPublica Midwest
David Jackson, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, and Duaa Eldeib
Judges for the 2021 awards were Chris Bury of DePaul University; Brant Houston of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Laura Washington of ABC 7 and the Chicago Sun-Times; and Charles Whitaker of Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications.