Environmental Stories Reap Major National Prizes

April 15, 2011



Environmental stories from 2010 were beginning to win recognition from national journalism prizes announced early this year.

The Associated Press won a George Polk Award for Environmental Reporting for its “colossal effort” covering the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the million-gallon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It not only held people accountable for the initial disaster but also widened the lens to many more problems that are lurking just under the waters of the Gulf,” stated Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor and senior vice president, in a press statement.

The AP was the first news organization to report the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Its investigations revealed gaps in regulatory oversight of the 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among the reporters whose stories were submitted for the prize: Jeff Donn and Seth Borenstein, Michael Kunzelman, Mike Baker, Mitch Weiss and Justin Pritchard.

Their stories examined:

  • “Glaring errors and omissions in BP’s oil spill response plans.”
  • The failure of BP to actually file a plan about how to handle just the type of spill that occurred at Deepwater Horizon.
  • How the federal agency charged with ensuring oil rigs operate safely “fell well short of its policy” of once-per-month inspections.
  • And the failure of cutoff valves (like the one that failed to stop the Gulf oil spill) which had repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years after federal regulators weakened testing requirements.

Also winning distinction this winter were three journalism efforts cited by one of the nation’s premier environmental prizes, the John B. Oakes Awards, announced by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Citations awarded:

1st place: A joint effort by the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the BBC’s International News Service for their nine-month project, “Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global AsbestosTrade.” Judges commended the project as “amazingly ambitious and hard-hitting.”

2nd place: The (New Orleans)Times-Picayune for its extensive coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Judges cited the newspaper’s breaking of numerous stories and helping to “shape national coverage of the disaster.”

3rd place: Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for his in-depth series “Great Lakes, Great Peril: A Road Map to Restoration.” Egan documented the area’s most pressing issues, including invasive species, Chicago’s outdated sewage system and dwindling water levels.

The Oakes award honors the late New York Times columnist, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Oakes was a pioneer of environmental journalism.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2011 issue.

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