The 2007 awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. were announced today. Two awards went to CIR associates: The Chauncey Bailey Project and Loretta Tofani. Tofani reporting was partially funded by CIR’s Dick Goldensohn Fund for International Investigative Reporting, and CIR is a media partner in The Chauncey Bailey Project reporting team.

The Chauncey Bailey Project received the Tom Renner Award for investigating the slain Oakland Post editor and continuing his reporting on the Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland. The IRE judges commented:

These stories would have been difficult to pursue under any circumstances, but it took extreme dedication to get at the truth following the assassination of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey. In the tradition of the Arizona Project, this coalition of Bay area journalists delved into questionable real estate deals and contracts involving the owners of Your Muslim Bakery in Oakland. The reporters raised questions about the thoroughness of a police investigation into the group before Bailey’s murder. They probed the interrogation and confession of Bailey’s alleged killer. And they carried on the work that Bailey intended to pursue before his death.

Reporter Loretta Tofani also received an IRE medal, the highest honor bestowed by the organization, for her Salt Lake Tribune series “American imports, Chinese deaths.” The judges commented:

This ambitious project shows that the mundane creature comforts of American lives have debilitating and sometimes deadly consequences for the people of China who make them. Freelance reporter Tofani and The Salt Lake Tribune take readers to manufacturing plants where young workers touch and inhale carcinogens without gloves, masks or proper ventilation in order to make cheap products that are shipped to America. Through powerful writing, tenacious investigative reporting in often dangerous situations, Tofani exposes the abuse of Chinese workers while American industry conveniently fails to discover bogus safety audits and fake record keeping. Over 15 months of reporting, freelance reporter Tofani analyzed hundreds of pages of records written in Chinese and gained the trust of workers in a closed society. We are inspired by her determination, impressed with her precision and awed by the compassion she brought to this important work.

Tofani wrote about the twists and turns of her reporting process in a Reporter’s Notebook for The Muckraker Blog: “How I got the story.” In the essay she explains that becoming a furniture importer gave her access to Chinese factories on a level that she never had as a journalist:

I had only been inside the factory for about 15 minutes. But it was enough. I thanked the sales manager. Once outside, I had trouble swallowing. My throat felt tight. I knew that Chinese oil-based paint contained lead. I began wondering about the workers: Didn’t they get lung cancer?

>> Read more of “How I got the story” by Loretta Tofani.