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Katrina Coverage Earns Reporters Mongerson Prize

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May 9, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

Times Picayune reporters Gordon Russell and Brian Thevenot and ABC's “20/20” program producer Melissa Cornick have won the $5,000 Mongerson Prize for Investigative Reporting for print and broadcast media, respectively. The prize, awarded by the Medill School of Journalism, carries a $5,000 award in each category.

Russell and Thevenot won the prize for their articles correcting exaggerated media accounts of looting, anarchy and murder in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Cornick earned her the prize for a story about local news reports that mischaracterized accusations of cruelty and efforts by animal groups to take animals from their owners as heroic. The story revealed that the actions by the groups often violated the owners' “due process” rights.

“By checking the accuracy of official pronouncements, The Times-Picayune reporters exposed the dangers of pack journalism in a difficult reporting environment,” said Medill Assistant Dean Ellen Shearer. “ABC's “20/20” not only corrected misinformation reported about animal rescue. It reminded journalists to look beyond the obvious because few stories seldom are one-dimensional.”

The Medill School also named three winners of $1,000 Awards of Distinction. They are Mark Mazzetti and Borzuo Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times; David Barstow and Robin Stein of The New York Times; and Eamon Javers of BusinessWeek online.

The Awards of Distinction honor reporters who pursued stories revealing the ways in which the federal government and special interest groups created artificial “news” as part of their propaganda initiatives. They reported on government-generated information that masqueraded as news and independent commentary.

Special Citations were given to The Bakersfield Californian for an investigation of errors or plagiarism in 39 stories by one of the paper's own reporters and to gradethenews.org, a media research project which examined the blurred lines between editorial and advertising staff at free daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area.

The Mongerson Prize for Investigative Reporting on the News honors outstanding reporting that covers and promptly corrects incomplete, inaccurate or misleading news stories. It was established to improve news credibility by encouraging reporting on media mistakes, honoring those who set the record straight and promoting high news standards so that the pubic gets the best, most reliable and accurate information possible.

The prize was created in 2001 through a grant from Paul Mongerson, an engineer, businessman and author interested in the media. It is based at the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C. 

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