One broadcast station and two newspapers received The American Legion's Fourth Estate Award on Thursday, during the 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis. The award has been presented annually by the Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in journalism. This year, for the first time, nominations were invited in multiple categories: print, broadcast and new media (Internet). The expansion is meant to continue to celebrate the more traditional platforms of print and broadcast, while also recognizing the growing field of online journalism.
NewsChannel 5 WTVF in Nashville, Tenn., took the top honor in the broadcast category with its series "NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Veterans Support Organization." The reports exposed the practices of a controversial group that claimed to help needy veterans. The investigation found that just 16 cents of every dollar raised by the group went to programs for veterans. The unveiling of these deceptive practices led to the state ordering the organization to stop collecting donations in Tennessee, and to pay a hefty $50,000 fine for 10 separate violations of the state's Charitable Solicitations Act - one of the largest imposed by the state.
"What is especially impressive about the NewsChannel 5 team's work is that this is the second time their work has earned a Fourth Estate Award - a first in American Legion history," said National Commander Jimmie L. Foster. Investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus replied, "We cover all of middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky ... this includes Fort Campbell, the Alvin C. York VA Center, and countless veterans just like yourselves." She added, "They [at the station] realize and recognize the importance of investigative journalism ... Our goal is to continue to do work that you find worthy."
Watch NewsChannel 5's report here.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took top honor in the print category for its extensive exposé of veterans homes throughout Pennsylvania. The reports uncovered horror stories such as veterans being administered improper doses of powerful medications, and officials ignoring staff allegations of physical abuse of residents. In one case, a pajama-clad patient with dementia and work-related brain damage walked past a manned security desk and out the door on New Year's Eve. His body was found 10 hours later. As a result of reporting that spanned several months, commandants of some homes resigned or were fired, the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs promised to simplify the asset-seizure policy, and one home was eventually cited for violating regulations in the handling of patients' funds.
"The exhaustive and unrelenting search for the truth by the Tribune-Review team truly made a difference in the lives of so many veterans and their families," Foster said. "Reporter Walter F. Roche Jr. and his investigators provided a shining moment in the annals of great journalism." Metro Editor David Conti said of the findings, "We, as a society, as people, shouldn't treat anyone this way ... but especially not people who have already put their lives on the line." He continued, "Our job in the media is to ensure that those who deserve better get better ... We were doing our job." Conti then announced that the paper will donate its $2,000 prize stipend to OCW.
Read one of the Tribune-Review articles here.
In the Internet (new media) category, the Indianapolis Star used its website to present "Hoosier Veterans: Faces of War." Interviews with 21 Hoosier-state veterans from various U.S. wars, including World War II and the global war on terrorism, resulted in a 30-minute video posted on IndyStar.com.
"This website encouraged students to ask their parents and grandparents to talk about their military experiences," Foster said. "For many veterans, that's an important catharsis, and the first-person accounts of this critical history of our country should not be overlooked." Multimedia photojournalist Dawn Mitchell commented of the subjects, "They showed us how amazing their spirits are ... Everyone has a story." Watch the Star presentation here.
Previous winners of the award include "Dateline NBC," C-SPAN, United Press International, USA TODAY, The Detroit News, Fortune magazine, ABC News and Life magazine. "These outstanding journalists have utilized their extensive talents to make a significant difference in the lives of their neighbors," Foster said. "Journalism doesn't get any better than that."