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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winners: Online Investigative Reporting


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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
SDX Award Winners: Online Investigative Reporting

Times Herald-Record and ChicagoTalks.org/The Beachwood Reporter

By Jim Poyser

Investigative Reporting (Affiliated)

WINNER: CHRISTINE YOUNG, JOHN PERTEL, CHRISTOPHER MELE & PATRICK MULLEN, TIMES HERALD-RECORD

“I Didn’t Do That Murder”

Lebrew Jones, a mentally disabled security guard, was convicted in 1989 on the basis of a nonsensical statement he gave police after 20 hours of questioning without a lawyer.

Reporter Christine Young said this work is “the story about the 1987 murder of a NYC prostitute and the subsequent conviction of a meek, eager-to-please security guard with no criminal record. In 1989, while I was a journalism student in NYC, I had a chance encounter with an exculpatory witness, and a few weeks later, another chance encounter with the investigating detective. Those two conversations led me to believe that police had arrested the wrong man.”

For the next 20 years, from one new home and one new job to another, Young carted her Lebrew Jones notes and files in a beat-up plastic laundry basket, his fate gnawing at her. Over these years, Young pursued every imaginable lead she could in tracking down key characters in her story.

Eventually, Young moved back to New York and learned that Jones was incarcerated only 12 miles from her new home. Thus, she said, “I knew this story’s time had come.”

Judges said: “Like a galloping horse, each article gained ground at gripping pace. We commend Christine Young, John Pertel, Christopher Mele and Patrick Mullen for using the online medium in creative ways to present evidence that a man convicted of murder didn’t do the crime.”

Online elements included a crime scene map, a timeline, a link to story updates, video of Jones’ statement to investigators and home movies of the victim shortly before her death.

Based on questions the coverage raised, the Manhattan district attorney’s office, in a rare decision, is re-investigating the case, and the convicted man is now being represented pro bono by a Manhattan law firm and the Innocence Project. It is in fact purely on the strength of Young’s investigative work — not physical evidence or traces of newly discovered DNA — that prosecutors are giving the case a second look.

More online: http://tinyurl.com/2ttmuj



Investigative Reporting (Independent)

WINNER: ERICA CHRISTOFFER, BECKY SCHLIKERMAN & SUZANNE MCBRIDE, CHICAGOTALKS.ORG/THE BEACHWOOD REPORTER

“Off the Record and Out of Order”

The shuffling of papers and the quiet murmur of small talk broke the silence of the nearly empty Chicago City Council chambers as a handful of city staffers filed in for a Traffic Control and Safety Committee meeting Dec. 5, 2007.

Of the 14 members assigned to the committee, only three showed up that morning ...

The trio sat at the front table facing the empty chamber’s 50 seats and listened as City Clerk Miguel del Valle presented a measure aimed at curbing counterfeit city stickers. The aldermen asked a few questions, then voted to approve the measure to raise fines for counterfeiters. The knock of the gavel ended the meeting in less than 20 minutes.

It would seem this meeting went off without a hitch.

Except for one thing: The aldermen broke state law, experts say.

When Columbia College students Erica Christoffer and Becky Schlikerman began attending dozens of Chicago City Council committee meetings in the fall of 2007, they were struck by how few people, including committee members, were there. They were also surprised to discover how many of the council’s 19 committees didn’t keep the basic records required under law.

Nine months of investigation later, reporters found that Chicago City Council committees regularly violate state law by voting on proposals without an adequate number of panel members present. And several committees didn’t bother to keep minutes — another violation of state law.

The challenges were many: Several government workers and elected officials at City Hall didn’t respond to the reporters’ request for information. But Christoffer, a graduate student in Columbia College’s journalism department, and Schlikerman, who earned an undergraduate degree the month these stories were published, would not take “no” for an answer.

Judges said this is a “small story with enormous repercussions that go to the heart of the political process.”

Christoffer said her inspiration for taking this investigation on “relates to access issues. I believe the public should be aware of how government business is conducted, and whether aldermen are representing their best interests by not showing up.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/dxh6je



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