Fine Work, Ladies and Gentlemen

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Media critics like me spend a lot of time poking holes in how reporters do their jobs.

Sometimes, we have to criticise our colleagues even when it's the last thing we'd rather be doing.

So it's good to be reminded of how much wonderful journalism is still being produced.

Today, Long Island University announced the winners of its annual George Polk Awards, which are given in memory of a CBS correspondent who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece in the late 1940's.

Among the winners this year are Ken Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling of the Los Angeles Times, for investigating toxic waste dumping into the oceans. They looked into the hideous rashes suffered by fishermen in Australia; brain-damaged sea lions washing up onto California's coast; red tides that are sickening beachgoers in Florida and the deaths of 200,000 albatross chicks on Midway Atoll.

Other winners are the Wall Street Journal's Charles Forelle, James Bandler and Mark Maremont, for exposing the backdating of stock-option awards by business executives; and Jeff Kosseff, Bryan Denson and Les Zaitz of The Oregonian, for uncovering the failure of a multibillion-dollar employment program for people with severe disabilities. The program rewarded executives handsomely but left workers in jobs with paltry wages. The largest recipient of the federal funds, an employment center in El Paso, Texas, paid more than $4 million a year to a consulting firm owned by its CEO. The Miami Herald's Debbie Cenziper won a Polk for revealing horrendous mismanagement in the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, which "allowed developers and well-connected consultants to amass millions of dollars while families suffered in shelters and rat-infested buildings." Cenziper's efforts prompted a criminal investigation and the firing of top housing officials.

New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen reported from Darfur in western Sudan, where a civil war has killed 200,000 people. Polgreen was cited for "courageous and often exclusive" reports that "gave voice to the victims of the conflict, terrified villagers and displaced survivors, alerting the world to their suffering."

NBC Nightly News correspondent Lisa Myers and producer Adam Ciralsky won for their reports questioning why the Army awarded defense contractor Raytheon Co. a $70 million contract to develop a system to ward off rocket-propelled grenades when a promising system already existed. After stories ran, Congress ordered a review of the Army's dealings with Raytheon.

Hartford Courant reporters Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman won for an exposé, Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight, on the high suicide rate among American troops and the military's lackluster mental health treatment programs.

Spike Lee and Sam Pollard won as co-directors of When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, an HBO documentary about the wreckage of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the gross governmental ineptitude that followed.

Here at The Baltimore Sun, Robert Little is a Polk winner for investigating a drug that is linked to fatal blood clots in U.S. servicemen. For his series Dangerous Remedy, he traveled to Iraq to write about wounded soldiers who were treated with the coagulant; two later died after suffering blood clots. Ray Ring, northern Rockies editor for High Country News in Paonia, Colorado, followed a money trail that financed referendum campaigns against land-use regulations in six Western states.

The biweekly news magazine, founded by a rancher in Wyoming 37 years ago, also  won a Polk Award in 1986, for environmental reporting. Finally this year, the radio reporting award goes to the producers of Early Signs: Reports from a Warming Planet.  Eleven students from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkeley conducted interviews around the world on the miseries of global warming. The project was edited and produced by American Public Media and the program Living on Earth.

For today, at least, we should all feel good about American journalism.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan