Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Toxic Avengers: Bergen Record Wins Top Investigative Award

Congrats to my former colleagues at the Bergen Record for scoring the IRE Medal, the highest award given out by Investigative Reporters & Editors for a series on how tons of toxic waste that was the legacy of a Ford plant has caused an environmental mess and affected the health of thousands of nearby residents.
I haven't worked at the paper in nearly 15 years, and it's heartening to see bylines on this series from colleagues who were there during my tenure, including Mary Jo Layton, Jan Barry and Lindy Washburn.
I give them credit for their perseverence as The Record by the early 1990s had slipped from its pedestal as one of the best, medium-sized dailies in the country, not to mention the best paper in New Jersey.
Like many, then, it was affected by a recession, and a plunge in advertising linage, while the news hole and opportunities for enterprise and investigative reporting shrunk accordingly.
A generous profit-sharing plan dried up, as did matching contributions to the 401k plan. In 1991, The Record froze pay and forced reporters to take a one-week unpaid furlough. Layoffs ensued. No surprise that morale and Dumpster were often used in the same sentence.
So, give the powers that be in Hackensack credit for resurrecting the kind of reporting just as good as at any metro daily (where many Record alumni now labor) that made The Record a place reporters want to be and an investigative series you want to read.
Another former Record colleague, Robert O'Harrow Jr. of the Washington Post, was a winner with Scott Higham in the IRE's largest newspaper category for a devastating look at how the Department of Homeland Security wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and fell short of its core mission.
Both articles also come with lots of extras on the web, and are proof that newspapers, while coughing and wheezing as of late, have miles to go before they sleep. In fact, such reporting may prove to be their salvation. In other words, give readers more of what they can't get anywhere else.

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