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Legion recognizes ‘outstanding’ journalism

A Hawaii television station, "America’s newspaper," and a war correspondent’s video on the website of the nation’s “newspaper of record” received The American Legion’s Fourth Estate Award on Aug. 29 during the 95th National Convention in Houston.

The Fourth Estate Award has been presented annually by the Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Nominations were considered in three categories: print, broadcast and new media (Internet).

Taking top honor in the print category for a second time was USA TODAY. A 14-month investigation of more than 460 forgotten lead-factory sites, including tests of more than 1,000 samples of soil in 21 neighborhoods by reporters Alison Young and Peter Eisler, found significant lead-poisoning risks. Failures by the EPA and state regulators had left thousands of families across the country in harm’s way for more than a decade. The series, "Ghost Factories," drew calls for action from seven U.S. senators and has led the EPA to re-examine health risks at all 464 sites nationwide. More than a dozen states have launched their own investigations, and several sites have already been targeted for cleanup.

Hawaii’s KITV-TV brought closure to a long and dark phase of history with the production of a one-hour documentary on the life of Marianne Cope, recently canonized by the Vatican for her work on the Kalaupapa peninsula in the mid-1800s. Of the more than 8,000 people torn from families and left to die in the leprosy settlement of Kalawao and Kalaupapa, only 18 remain today. With the disease no longer a threat, these elderly and frail patients traveled to Rome for the canonization. For them, Cope's sainthood validated that their suffering and sacrifice have not been in vain. KITV’s Pamela Young, Rex Von Arnswaldt and Gary Sprinkle poignantly closed out a dark phase of history with a story of hope, faith and courage.

In the Internet (new media) category, freelance war correspondent Alex Quade won her second consecutive Fourth Estate Award for her video report, “Chinook Down,” for the New York Times website. Her short documentary revealed the full story and human toll behind a WikiLeaks headline of a Chinook helicopter shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Afghanistan, killing all onboard. Quade was supposed to be on that helicopter. She instead reported firsthand on the firefight and recovery. For five years, she gathered material on the attack, interviewing pilots who provided air support to rescue teams on the ground, obtaining previously unreleased Pentagon documents via Freedom of Information Act appeals, and viewing video. The result of Quade’s investigation was a 10-minute video for the Times that brought closure to the families; as one soldier who had long suffered from PTSD told her, “You helped me come home from the war.”

Previous winners of the award include "Dateline NBC," C-SPAN, United Press International, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Indianapolis Star, the Detroit News, Fortune magazine, ABC News and Life magazine, among others.

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