March 31, 2009
WWL-TV Wins IRE Medal for Investigative Reports
NEW ORLEANS, LA. - The national organization of Investigative Reporters and Editors has bestowed its highest honor, the IRE medal, on WWL-TV and anchor/reporter Lee Zurik, for a series of investigative reports on questions surrounding the city agency New Orleans Affordable Homeownership.
"This recognition is especially gratifying because it comes from some of the top investigative journalists in the country, who know the challenges of working on stories like this," said Zurik.
The series of more than 50 reports, which began in July 2008, was honored by the 2008 Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, which announced winners on Tuesday. Other winners included 60 Minutes, NPR, Detroit Free Press and Seattle Times. Other television finalists represented NBC News, CNN, ABC News and WWL-TV's sister station KHOU-TV in Houston.
This year's top prize, the IRE medal, was given to WWL-TV for the NOAH investigation.
Zurik added, "Since this program was supposed to help the poor and elderly rebuild their homes after Hurricane Katrina, the questions that were raised about possible misuse of money were particularly troubling. We felt that it was our duty to pursue the story, even after encountering resistance from the city and those who ran the program."
The IRE judges, who represent several national newspapers and television broadcasting companies, commended Zurik and WWL-TV "for its dogged rolling investigation of a city-run housing nonprofit that falsely claimed to have fixed homes in desperate need of repair after Hurricane Katrina, and the contractors who pocketed the money without doing the work. Through compelling story telling, the station tackled a serious issue that had received little attention and did so in the face of immense political pressure."
"In a rolling investigation of 50 television segments, WWL-TV of New Orleans uncovered corruption in a city agency charged with helping rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," the judges wrote. "Following a source's tip, reporter Lee Zurik and his team examined New Orleans Affordable Housing records and found that money was paid to contractors to repair homes that never received any improvements or didn't exist at all. WWL's investigation found close ties between agency managers, Mayor Ray Nagin, and the contractors doing the alleged improvements. The journalist stuck to the story in the face of public intimidation and strong initial denials by Nagin. The results were impressive: The program was suspended, the employees were fired and a federal grand jury launched an investigation."
In addition to Zurik, the WWL-TV team included photographers Tom Moore and Bob Parkinson, executive producer Dominic Massa, and WWL-TV executive news director Chris Slaughter.
Slaughter commented, "This award is a credit to Lee's tremendous skill, determination and willingness to devote extra time to track this story, no matter where it led. This honor also recognizes WWL-TV's longstanding commitment to quality investigative reporting, which is something we can promise our viewers that we will continue to deliver"
The team was also assisted by research from blogger and community activist Karen Gadbois, whose initial work on the story helped fuel the long-running investigation. Additional research came from Sarah Lewis and Marcy Planer.
The awards, given by Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., recognize the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. The contest covers 15 categories across media platforms and a range of market sizes. The contest, which began in 1979, received more than 380 entries this year. IRE, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to training and supporting journalists who pursue investigative stories and operates the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a joint program of IRE and the Missouri School of Journalism.
The IRE Awards will be presented at a luncheon on Saturday, June 13, at the 2009 IRE Conference in Baltimore.
About Belo Corp.
WWL-TV is part of Belo Corp. (BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, with 2008 annual revenue of $733 million. The Company owns and operates 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated Web sites. Belo stations, which include affiliations with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW and MyNetwork TV, reach more than 14 percent of U.S. television households in 15 highly-attractive markets. Nearly all Belo stations rank first or second in their local market. Additional information is available at www.belo.com or by contacting Paul Fry, vice president/Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, at 214-977-6835.