Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our Mercenaries

The U.S. increasingly relies on thousands of heavily armed private contractors to do security work in Iraq. In "Private Security Guards in Iraq Operate With Little Supervision," T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times reports that none of these contractors have been prosecuted despite improperly shooting at civilian Iraqis. Miller uses military incident reports combined with interviews of Iraqi civilians and U.S. officials to reveal a system that suffers from a lack of accountability for deadly actions. Miller deserves credit for doing difficult investigative reporting in a war zone. Borzou Daragahi, Saad Fakhrildeen and Asmaa Waguih also contributed to this story.,0,6399889.story?page=1&track=tottext

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Soldier's Story

No story can completely capture what it's like to serve in Iraq. But Ken Fuson of the Des Moines Register takes us as close as non-combatants can go in "A Soldier's Promise." This beautifully written three-part story shares with us the courage, pain and loyalty of 1st Sgt. Brent Jurgersen, who promised the families of his soldiers that he would bring them home safely from Iraq. Notice how Fuson doesn't waste a word in his narrative.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Track For Disaster

Phil Pitchford, Ben Goad, David Danelski and Mark Kawar of The Press-Enterprise based in Riverside, Calif., have put together one of the most impressive multi-media investigative reports I've ever seen. In "Toxic Cargo" they look at the dangers of chemical spills from the increasing number of freight trains passing through their region. By using the Freedom of Information Act, they uncovered the risks of uneven train tracks, faulty inspections, incorrect cargo records, old rail cars and mishandled evacuations. They also share the history of deadly train spills in North Dakota and South Carolina. The lessons they report apply to any populated area, like my own Chicago, that is crossed by rail lines. Just as impressive as the reporting is the way The Press-Enterprise presents the story. In addition to the main stories, the package includes videos, slide shows, audio of 911 calls and even interactive animation to show the dangers of a toxic spill. This is multi-media storytelling at its best. My thanks to Investigative Reporters and Editors for bringing my attention to this story.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A True Friend

Writing a compelling narrative is one of the most challenging things a reporter can do. Ty Phillips of the Modesto Bee succeeds in doing so by capturing all the small details and intricate dialogue that can make a scene come to life. In''The Ultimate Gift," he tells the story of David Hatfield, a man who responds to his own terminal illness by embracing with friendship Margaret Stradella, a 96-year-old woman nearing the end of her days in a hospice. This story has real heart. My thanks to Brian Summers for the tip.

Torture Abroad

It's rare to see an in-depth story on international affairs on the evening news, so I was delighted to see Brian Ross' report last on ABC News. Ross, with the help of Richard Esposito, gave the most thorough look I've seen so far on the question of whether the CIA has been using secret prisons in Europe to torture terrorism suspects. Ross said current and former CIA officers told ABC that 11 top al Qaeda suspects were held in Poland and Romania until Human Rights Watch exposed their existence. The prisoners are now being held in North Africa, Ross reported. The story gives me pause because it relies heavily on anonymous sources, but I'm not sure if there's a way to avoid that when dealing with the CIA on such a contentious issue.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

King Cotton

American taxpayers subsidize U.S. cotton farmers to the tune of $1.3 billion a year, Jane Roberts of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. In "Cotton: A Fraying Future," Roberts skillfully dissects the economics and politics of cotton subsidies in a way that is understandable to the average reader. I admire her courage in taking on a topic that is so sensitive in the South and has such big implications for farmers around the world.

Trying to Keep Their Baby

Liz Campo and Mike Testa had their baby taken away from them by the state of Washington two days after she was born. In "Special Report: What's best for Baby M?" Jonathan Martin of The Seattle Times tells the story of this troubled couple's efforts to get their baby daughter back. Martin uses court records, case files, medical records, police reports and interviews with Campo, Testa and their lawyers and case workers. His painstaking reporting creates a powerful narrative about a legal system that affects parents and their children around the country. Mike Siegel's poignant photo's tell the story in an equally powerful way.
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