Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has won two Online Journalism Awards from the Online News Association for excellence in digital journalism worldwide.
The awards, announced Saturday, honor multiplatform investigations into the president’s plans to build a southern border wall and conflicts in North America between indigenous rights and energy expansion.
The Wall won the large newsroom category in the inaugural year of the ONA’s excellence in audio digital storytelling award. The project examined President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise: building an impassable barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. The judges noted that they were impressed with the work’s ability to bring a major issue and its realities to life.
The project centered on a digital map of every mile of the 2,000-mile border that Reveal’s Michael Corey, Allison McCartney and Andrew Becker based on open-source mapping tools and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Corey joined Reveal senior reporter/producer Katharine Mieszkowski at a golf course on the boundary between Texas and Mexico for Reveal’s public radio broadcast and podcast – a joint project of CIR and PRX – to illustrate where the border fence is (and isn’t), the most likely targets for additional barriers and what problems could arise.
The episode broke new ground, with lead sound designer Jim Briggs teaming up with Corey to turn data into sound and mapping the border through data sonification, using tools we have developed. Reveal engagement reporter Byard Duncan and Briggs also partnered with Pat Mesiti-Miller of “Snap Judgment,” a WNYC podcast, for the wall rap challenge. The challenge used our wall sonification with beats as a base and then invited readers and listeners – including youth poets along the border – to layer on hip-hop lyrics.
We sought a variety of perspectives on the ground as well for the Reveal episode. Becker talked to a Border Patrol agent, a veteran human smuggler and a rancher in the Arizona border region. Reveal reporter/proudcer Emily Harris, with help from producer Mark Baker, probed whether Israel’s walls succeed in doing what Trump claims they do. Texas Tribune reporter Kiah Collier and producer/reporter Neena Satija, with Reveal and The Tribune, looked at the potential toll of a wall on wildlife and humans. Reporter/producer Stan Alcorn examined the consequences for people on both sides of the border by focusing on a man who went missing as he tried to cross into the U.S. through a remote desert without a fence.
On our website, we helped readers explore the border by using our mapping data and adding more information from documents to build what was then the most complete map of the existing border fence. We published the data on GitHub under an open database license, and since then, newsrooms including Univision, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC and the San Antonio Express-News have used it to build their own visual journalism projects about the wall’s feasibility.
In topical reporting, Reveal and Inside Energy were named winners for their collaboration on Standing Rock and Beyond. The judges commended its strong reporting, audience engagement and online presentation highlighting voices that often are excluded.
A one-hour Reveal episode by the two outlets, featuring the reporting of Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson, went behind the scenes at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to meet the young people who started the protest against a crude oil pipeline. Other segments exposed how Native American tribes are grappling with energy projects on their own sovereign lands. Reveal producer Ike Sriskandarajah with Paterson told the story of the Southern Ute tribe, which instead of fighting energy development decided to embrace it.
In the episode and in an accompanying longform narrative, Reveal’s Patrick Michels showed ways the Trans Mountain pipeline is forcing Canadian officials to decide how far they’re willing to go to honor First Nations’ rights. His narrative followed the route of the proposed pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the most vociferous protests near its terminus in Vancouver, accompanied by an interactive map underlay by Reveal news applications developer Scott Pham.
A story for Reveal by freelancer Sandy Tolan detailed how the U.S. oil industry is enjoying a surge in production and construction, yet much of that oil is headed offshore, in contrast with claims of a goal of “energy independence.”
The honored Standing Rock project also featured a video series by producer Rachel de Leon, Senior Supervising Editor David Ritsher and freelance producer Sara Lefleur-Vetter. The four videos examined the ways tribes in North America have dealt with mounting pressures from governments and corporations that damage sacred lands for megaprojects such as dams, freeways and oil pipelines.
For this project, we talked, but we also listened.
In Canada, we joined forces with Discourse Media, an independent newsroom steeped in indigenous rights, to host a series of small discussions in the path of the planned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
After Trump said he had not heard from anyone who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline, we learned that the White House comment line was shut down. So we opened our own phone lines, asking people to leave a voicemail for the president. When the White House line reopened, we delivered more than 200 of the messages, the vast majority opposed.
In addition, Mother Jones magazine won an ONA feature award for a multiplatform project in which reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a private prison guard. Reveal’s episode about that investigation was part of the honored multiplatform presentation.
Two Reveal projects also were named as finalists for the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award.
An investigation into lax safety at shipyards working for the U.S. Navy by Reveal reporter Gollan and Alcorn told the stories of people whose lives were ruined by accidents there. The project, produced online and on the podcast, exposed how the government took little meaningful action and continued awarding contracts to the shipbuilders responsible.
An investigation into sexual exploitation of workers in California’s marijuana industry by reporter Shoshana Walter was told online and in a Reveal podcast with producer Michael Montgomery. The story detailed how seasonal workers known as “trimmigrants” travel into the region every year for coveted, lucrative jobs trimming buds on pot farms, but few know the conditions and the potential for abuse that await them.