2020 MRE Journalism Contest winners announced

WASHINGTON, May 28 — The Military Reporters and Editors association, a leading membership organization for defense reporters and other professionals in the national security field, announced today the winners of its annual competition for defense reporting. 

The awards cover outstanding work published or broadcast in 2019. 

MRE’s mission is to foster networking among media professionals on the military and intelligence beat, to advocate for their rights and to educate them and the public about the U.S. military.

The judges were from the Medill School of Journalism: Lecturer Ivan Meyers, Assistant Professor Matthew Orr, Professor Ellen Shearer and Storer Rowley.  The latter two are the co-directors of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

The judges said the following about this year’s winners:

The Joe Galloway Award: This award, which includes a $500 prize, is named after Joe Galloway, a famed former UPI combat correspondent and McClatchy Newspapers columnist. This is for the Best of Show as determined by the judges.

Tara Copp, Shirsho Dasgupta and Ben Wieder of McClatchy Newspapers
McClatchy’s “Stricken” investigation is outstanding investigative reporting that is of extreme importance to the military, veterans and the country. The team of three McClatchy reporters created a database of nearly two decades of raw cancer treatment data obtained through FOIAs from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They used the analysis of those numbers to show that after two decades of war, cancers among veterans are on the rise. They found that, in some cases, the Defense Department knew in advance that the environments they deployed forces to were toxic. In February 2020, Reps. Elaine Luria and Adam Kinzinger introduced legislation, which cited McClatchy’s reporting, that would require the Pentagon to look at the incidence rate of cancers among military pilots and would also require medical screening for pilots as young as 30 for some cancers. Not only is this story deeply reported, it is told with a clear eye on the people affected – and uses terrifically composed video and audio storytelling in addition to riveting narratives to provide this important information to Americans.

The James Crawley Award: This award, which comes with a $100 prize, is named after the late and widely renowned James Crawley, who was a founder of MRE and a military reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune and Media General News Service. Entries are limited to the Print/Online News Reporting category.

David Hasemyer, Paul Horn of InsideClimate News; and Joe Murphy, Nigel Chiwaya, and Brock Stoneham of NBC News
InsideClimate News and NBC News combined forces to uncover a problem not being addressed by the military – the increased number of troop deaths caused by heat exposure, especially during training exercises. In “Military Fights a Deadly Enemy: Heat,” the reporters found that at least 17 service members died of heat exposure during training exercises at U.S. military bases between 2008 and 2018. During that same period, the number of heat injuries jumped 60 percent. Using thousands of pages of records and dozens of interviews, the reporters found that basic safeguards have not been put in place to protect troops against rising temperatures in the face of climate change.

Print/Online Domestic: Larger Market Award

T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi of ProPublica
Much has been written about the separate collisions of two Navy ships months apart in 2017. But ProPublica’s “Disaster in the Pacific”–a detailed, extensive investigation into the problems with the 7th Fleet–is truly groundbreaking. Sen. Angus King of the Senate Armed Services Committee called it “one of the most sobering analyses of a disaster that I’ve ever seen. And it takes responsibility all the way through the very top.” The three reporters obtained thousands of pages of secret documents, including one sailor’s personal diary, to document previously unrevealed near-misses on one ship. They interviewed hundreds of sailors and Marines around the world. The result is a tour de force of writing, 3D replicas of flawed systems and other interactive features. Lawmakers in Congress used ProPublica’s reporting to challenge the Navy over its claims that it had been fully truthful about its failings and efforts at reform. After ProPublica uncovered the improper role the Navy’s top commander had played in the prosecution of a doomed warship’s captain, the Navy dropped all criminal charges.

Print/Online Domestic: Small Market Award

Abbie Bennett of ConnectingVets.com
“Toxic Inferno,” a four-part series, takes an in-depth look at the tragic consequences burning trash pits have had on the health of U.S. soldiers who were unknowingly exposed to noxious chemicals, including carcinogens, while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Abbie Bennett’s reporting indicates that this is a health crisis that could soon kill more service members than suicide, and comprehensive legislation is needed to help the thousands of veterans who are affected. With deep empathy and illuminating detail, she tells the heartbreaking stories of soldiers who returned home from war safely only to later develop rare and often deadly diseases. The narrative is skillfully written and highly informative.

Print/Online Overseas: Large Market Award

Kevin Mauer for The Washington Post
“Witness to War,” Kevin Maurer’s first-person piece of explanatory journalism and analysis ,
draws on the 15 years that Mauer covered the war in Afghanistan. Mauer brings his perspective to bear and asks whether it was worth it—the lives, the costs and the national commitment. It’s accessible to readers because he takes them through his journey going back to his first trip in 2004. Mostly he discovers the damage wrought in Afghanistan and the mistrust that has set in, even as the country succumbs to a new threat from the Islamic State, a group called ISIS-K.
The piece provides a depth of reporting over time, the historical context and the current state of the long U.S. struggle to try to bring closure to America’s longest war.

Print/Online Overseas: Small Market Award

Steve Losey of Air Force Times
In “‘Start Finding Me, Boys,’” longtime military writer Steve Losey crafted a compelling and dramatic account of the shoot-down and rescue of Air Force’s then Lt. Col. Dave Goldfein–who would later become a four-star general and the service’s chief of staff–in hostile territory in Serbia during Operation Allied Force on May 2, 1999, in the lingering war in the former Yugoslavia. The story is well crafted in Losey’s terse, matter-of-fact style, which is fitting for a military correspondent’s account of a downed pilot who also doesn’t mince words. But it is also told with empathy for the airmen under fire, an understanding of the military and its operations and protocols, and clear knowledge about Air Force tactics and weapons systems, all very relevant experience for this story of a daring and dramatic rescue from a war zone.

Television: Large Market

Karen M. Sughrue of “Retro Report on PBS” for PBS-TV
Karen M. Sughrue’s “She Rocked the Pentagon” is gripping from the start, and is well crafted from start to finish. The studio introduction has a distinct visual look, and the graphics are well integrated into the set without being over the top. The production value is notably excellent as we leave the set and dive into the story, which exhibits both editorial strength and a strong technical showing. The reporting and storytelling is top notch, supplemented by excellent, relevant historical footage, wonderfully refined graphics, a cinematic style for interviews and seamless editing. What’s striking in this story is how an incident nearly 30 years ago has played such a groundbreaking role in reforming the military’s stance on women and the continual and increasing integration of women into various roles and capacities. The history is relevant background to current issues; the story covers the history with an eye on the present, and then moves into multiple relevant news hooks.

Television: Small Market Award

Maranda Whittington of KSLA-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana
It’s wonderful to see a well-established franchise program like KSLA Salutes
carried on with adept skill and execution. This series of broadcasts by KSLA reporter Maranda Whittington impresses with the range and depth of local stories that tie into the central military theme. From the retired colonel working at the retiree affairs office as he approaches his 100th birthday to the twin retirees who had uncannily similar careers, the videos are personal and relatable while standing out for their unique stories and often have a touch of history to offer.

Radio Award

Carson Frame of Texas Public Radio for American Homefront Project
Carson Frame’s story on domestic violence is titled, “After A Report Found The Military Often Mishandles Domestic Violence, Reforms Are Happening Slowly.” It is straightforward but thorough and important reporting, focusing on the story of one woman’s experience with an abusive husband in active service – but with implications for anyone in the military experiencing domestic abuse. The sound is clean, the narration is well-written and delivered, and there’s a good mix of voices to tell a well-rounded story that is tragic but hopeful.

Commentary Award

Andrew Clevenger of CQ Magazine
Andrew Clevenger’s deep knowledge and clear-eyed approach to analyzing the operations of the Department of Defense and his insights into its workings provide his readers with new ways to think about everything from what the military’s track record on buying weapons and equipment means for securing American interests to what he called a glide path to a $1 trillion annual Pentagon budget by 2026. In his columns, he builds his arguments with great writing, yes, but their strength is based on data, documents and deep sourcing. He also is fearless in holding the powerful accountable, as demonstrated in his column criticizing former Defense Secretary James Mattis for not publicly articulating his assessment of President Donald Trump’s military decisions.

Student Project Award

Rich Dolan of Hofstra University
“From the Corps to the Ring,” a photo essay by Rich Dolan, provides a close look at a gym run by Butch Rinaldi, a retired Marine. We come to understand a number of important related aspects of life through this photo essay: the importance of upbringing and service; the drive to give back to a community; the often difficult transition from service to civilian life; the hard-to-navigate world of veterans benefits. Not only are the photos good, but the story supporting them and the modern web framework used to present the story are just as important. Through an interactive journalism style, the viewer scrolls through the story, which alternates between photos and descriptions, much of it well-linked to background information to drive the story forward.

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the “Television: Large Market” winner.