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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Winners: Television Investigative Reporting


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Winners: Television Investigative Reporting

CBS News'

By Jim Poyser

Investigative Reporting (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

WINNER: SCOTT PELLEY, TOM HONEYSETT,

NICOLE YOUNG & SOLLY GRANATSTEIN,

CBS NEWS’ “60 MINUTES”

“The Wasteland”

Scott Pelley: Tonight we’re going to take you to one of the most toxic places on earth, a place that government officials and gangsters don’t want you to see. It’s a town in China where you can’t breathe the air or drink the water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead.

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” team — with Solly Granatstein, producer; Nicole Young, editor; Tom Honeysett, co-producer; and Scott Pelley, correspondent — investigated a major electronic waste recycler in the Denver area, Executive Recycling, and tracked a container that had been filled with cathode ray tubes at the company’s loading docks. They followed the container from Denver to Tacoma to Hong Kong, the entryway to the part of southern China where electronic waste is broken down in the worst conditions.

Seven out of 10 kids have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Pregnancies are six times more likely to end in miscarriage.

The best intentions to be an environmentally conscious citizen can be channeled into an international smuggling route, a virtual sewer of toxic waste to one of the poorest and most polluted places on earth.

Scott Pelley: When the container left Tacoma we followed it for 7,459 miles to this place: Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong. It turns out the container that started in Denver was just one of thousands of containers on and underground, often illegal, smuggling route taking America’s electronic trash to the Far East.

The team notes the challenging nature of getting the story: “Since we were trying to document illegal activity, much of our investigation had to be secret. Therefore, for example, we had to figure out a way to film the containers at Executive Recycling without being seen. Accessing information from U.S. government officials, even when they are inquiring in a similar area to your inquiry, is never easy. But that was just in the United States. While we were in China, we had to get around the lack of respect for a free press and the government’s keen concern about bad publicity in advance of the Beijing Olympic Games.”

The week after the report aired, the City of Denver announced that it had suspended its contract with Executive Recycling, and the EPA Enforcement Division has an open investigation of Executive Recycling and 42 other recyclers suspected of sending toxic electronic waste overseas.

More online: http://tinyurl.com/6a7rt4

Investigative Reporting (Large Market Station: 1-50 Market)

WINNER: KELI RABON & JIM O’DONNELL, WREG-TV

“Charity or Con?”

In a time when families were desperately seeking help, and people across the nation were graciously opening their wallets, a man from Memphis named Keith Canfield saw Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to gain from the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history. He collected millions of dollars and formed a project called “100 Homes in 100 Days” in Pascagoula, Miss., but he left some families with absolutely nothing.

In a three-state investigation, investigative reporter Keli Rabon and photographer/editor/producer Jim O’Donnell uncovered the Memphis ties to a tangled money trail of this $3 million mess, shedding light on the “100 Homes” secret that national charities don’t want potential donors to know.

In the process, they caught Canfield starting the project all over again, this time in New Orleans.

There never were 100 homes involved, and only about 15 homes were completed. Many of the homes were gutted, then left vacant.

A man named Junior Johnson continues to live inside his home, though it is nothing more than a skeletal frame — without water, electricity or even a mattress — because his old home was destroyed by the charity.

Judges said: “This series of reports exemplified the hard-hitting, tough investigative work that is necessary to unearth a difficult story. The reporter kept digging until she uncovered the documentation and the inside witnesses to get to the truth. The story appeals to all of us as consumers and taxpayers, as it raises concerns about fraud and waste in the name of charity.”

Ultimately, judges praised Rabon and O’Donnell because they “gave the tragedy a human face.”

Rabon said this coverage “is an everyday reminder that the work we do is not just something to fill a newscast. It’s work that impacts someone’s life, their well-being, the decisions they make, and their families. It has made me appreciate the potential impact a story can have, because the words and pictures are so much more than just a ‘story.’

“While we can’t take back the damage that ‘100 Homes’ did to this struggling neighborhood, our investigation succeeded in stopping Canfield from collecting any more donations, and hopefully preventing any further damage.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/kkjl2g

Investigative Reporting (Small Market Station: 50+ Market)

WINNER: BRIAN CONYBEARE & ERIC LEEDS,

NEWS 12 WESTCHESTER

“Yonkers Raceway Casino Probe”

While she doesn’t want to show her face or use her real name out of fear for her safety, News 12 has confirmed “Mary” worked at the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway for nearly a year. And she helped run the big money promotional giveaways now under investigation.

Mary: “I’ve seen them rigged, I’ve seen papers filled out with their family or friend’s names on it and know that’s what they were doing.”

Mary says several workers in the promotion and marketing departments would predetermine the winners in what were supposed to be random drawings, rewarding friends, relatives and certain high rollers who would then pay them kickbacks. She threatened to report it last year and was fired — she says for one reason.

Mary: “Because I knew too much.”

Anchor/reporter Brian Conybeare said he had “sources telling me there was corruption at the Yonkers Raceway Casino and [I] did some digging, but I never had enough proof to go with the story.” Then, an ambitious promotion campaign by the casino went horribly wrong, leaving thousands of gamblers frustrated and angry.

“Some of them called me,” Conybeare said, which led to more sources coming forward, including an ex-employee and an actual participant in the scheme.

“This work is about greed and corruption that was left unchecked for two years,” he said.

Judges said Conybeare and photographer/editor Eric Leeds “do a great job of explaining a complicated scam operation. Their probe helped identify people on the inside, as well as people who won as a result of the botched promotion. They were tenacious in staying on top of this story over an extended period of time. Excellent effort.”

The series got four workers at the casino suspended and led directly to criminal investigations by the Westchester County district attorney and the New York State Lottery Division.

Conybeare said he “learned to listen to my sources no matter how far-fetched their allegations may sound. ... Trust your sources, follow the leads, verify everything, and you never know what may happen.”

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