MRE recognizes 2013 contest winners

With U.S. involvement in Iraq ended and the withdrawal from Afghanistan drawing near, many of the winners of this year’s Military Reporters & Editors contest turned their attention to the problems confronting troops returning home as well as veterans, from joblessness to higher death rates to backlogs in disability claims. Winners also, however, continued to provide incisive and insightful coverage of the war in Afghanistan, including attacks on U.S. convoys and heroic rescue efforts by special units.

Judges were faculty of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative: Scott Anderson, Timothy McNulty, Josh Meyer and Ellen Shearer.

MRE_Logo75The awards, for work published or aired in 2012, will be presented at the 2013 MRE Conference on Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C.

Joe Galloway Award (Sponsored by McClatchy Newspapers)

WINNER: “Out of Uniform, Out of Work,” a four-part series on veteran unemployment, Andrew Tilghman of the Military Times

Tilghman’s four-part series on veteran unemployment was a riveting, comprehensive account of the underlying causes and issues of joblessness among veterans. It demonstrated the unreliability of veteran unemployment statistics. In the best tradition of Joe Galloway, Tilghman showed how those who have served in the military are hurt by misinformation about their capabilities.

Print – Overseas coverage, large circulation

WINNER: “Under Attack,” Michael M. Phillips of the Wall Street Journal

Phillips’ eyewitness moment-by-moment account of an attack on a U.S. Marines/Afghan police convoy in western Afghanistan combines a chilling portrait of the chaos of war and the brotherly humanity of American troops under fire. His narrative is compelling from the first sentence: “When the suicide bomber exploded, the world skidded to a stop.” His photographs of the attack, especially the image of a wounded Sgt. Caleb Rauscher staring into the lens, are testament to Phillips’ own bravery and professionalism.

Print – Overseas coverage, small circulation

WINNER: Stories while embedded with two units, Laura Rauch of Stars and Stripes

Rauch’s stories of two specialized units in Afghanistan — the Army Pathfinders and the Air Force Pararescue teams — are artful accounts of the quiet heroism of those who race to extract their fellow soldiers during enemy attacks and rescue the wounded even under fire themselves. Detailed retelling of the dramatic day the Pathfinders lost eight comrades and reveals Rauch’s own skills as a careful and compassionate interviewer. Rauch flew more than 90 missions with those Air Force teams in 2012 and her articles display her skill not only as a reporter but also a combat photojournalist.

Print – Domestic coverage, large circulation

WINNER: “Uncounted Casualties,” Austin American-Statesman Investigative Team

This investigative team created a comprehensive account of how Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are dying when they get back home. Their investigation, focusing on Texas veterans, showed that veterans are dying of prescription drug overdoses, suicides and single-car crashes at far higher rates than civilians. Because of the team’s stories, Texas officials created a statewide veterans coordinator position and the federal Veterans Affairs Department has said it would launch its own mortality study.

RUNNER-UP: Coverage of veteran mental health issues, Michael M. Phillips of the Wall Street Journal
Phillips chronicled the ways that Iraq and Afghanistan have affected the emotional and mental states of America’s troops – and the effects on the circle of people around them. The stories, as one reader wrote, were “powerful;” another reader said, they were “something that really matters.”

Print – Domestic coverage, small circulation

WINNER: Coverage of a GPS intellectual property dispute between the UK and US, Dee Ann Divis, Inside GNSS

Divis provided exclusive stories that exposed a scheme to control intellectual property that could have forced the U.S. military to pay to use a signal on its own GPS system. A British military lab filed patents on technology donated by the U.S. to a joint satellite navigation system with European allies, then demanded royalties. The U.S. and United Kingdom subsequently announced the UK would make its GPS patents public domain.

RUNNER-UP: Coverage of two Marines trapped at boot camp, Gina Harkins, Marine Corp Times

Harkins’ riveting account of two Marine recruits left in limbo awaiting medical separate for 16 months at Parris Island led to instant release of the pair after her story was published. She was able to interview the pair in secret while they were being held at boot camp.

Online

WINNER: Coverage of the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to process disability benefits, Aaron Glantz and Shane Shifflett of the Center for Investigative Reporting

Multi-dimensional, impactful and aggressive ongoing beat coverage of the enormous backlog of disability claims from the nation’s veterans — and errors made in the review process — using the VA’s own data as a pathway to the stories of the many disabled veterans and families who have waited in some cases more than a year to hear about their claims or appeals. An embeddable interactive map literally brings the story home: It shows locally and nationally the scope of the backlog over time — it is updated weekly — and its underlying data on its own is a powerful resource that is offered to and gratefully used by other media outlets and clearly increases the impact of CIR’s work many times.

RUNNER-UP: “Turned Away from the VA,” Mark Brunswick and McKenna Ewen, Star Tribune

This well-reported, nicely written news feature and accompanying moving video will leave you infuriated and perplexed about how help was sought — but didn’t come — to a Wisconsin National Guardsman with two tours of duty in Iraq. He was hearing voices and having mental issues and visited the VA hospital for help. Blake Uddin was sent home, apparently because it wasn’t felt he was suicidal, and told to return in a week. Days later, he tried hijacking a car and succeeded with another, then wound up pulling over and running in traffic on a busy highway, listening, he said, to the voices in his head.“ He was eventually hit, taken the hospital and arrested. (A judge three months later ruled that Uddin was not responsible for his actions that day because of his mental illness).

TV – Large market

WINNER: “Afghanistan: The Surge.” Robert Hodierne of the University of Richmond

Hodierne, who produced and directed the feature-length documentary, clearly spent a lot of time on the ground with troops, often at their most vulnerable, to show the effects of the surge on the local population – and on the US military.

RUNNER-UP: Karen Middleton of Australia’s Special Broadcasting Services, and cameraman Jeffrey Kehl

Her pieces on Afghanistan detailed how troops dealt with insider attacks that killed at least seven of their fellow soldiers.

Blogs

WINNER: Steven Ranson of the Lahontan Valley News

His prolific coverage of Nevada Guardsmen and women serving in Afghanistan succeeded in what he said was his goal: To “put a face to the name” while embedding with the units, even paying his own way to the war zone.

Photography – Large market

WINNER: Michael Phillips of the Wall Street Journal

In the aftermath of a suicide bombing of a vehicle behind his in a convoy in Afghanistan, Phillips focused on capturing the anguish of a wounded sergeant whom Phillips helped drag from the wreckage.

Photography – Small market

WINNER: Laura Rauch of Stars & Stripes

Rauch’s gripping, stellar and artful selection of photographs from combat in Afghanistan brings you eye-to-eye with the danger, fear, emotion, pain and grit of the action, from the wrenching grimace of a solider wounded in an IED attack to the haunting face of a young Afghan girl shyly waving from a doorway at a passing solider.

To register for the 2013 Military Reporters and Editors Conference, click here or visit https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1297481. For more information about the MRE contest or conference, please contact Natalie Jones at natalie.jones@northwestern.edu.