Inquirer team wins inaugural Weiss Award for Investigative Journalism

An immersive, multimedia investigation of violence and unsafe learning conditions within Philadelphia public schools has earned a team of reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer a $10,000 prize and the inaugural Weiss Award for Investigative Journalism.

The top prize winner, “Assault on Learning,” is by John Sullivan, Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham, Dylan Purcell and Jeff Gammage. The seven-part series spurred an overhaul of the schools’ incident-reporting processes and the hiring of a state-funded safe schools advocate.

The Weiss Award was created through the vision and generosity of local businessman Larry Weiss and is sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater.

“We are fortunate to have many excellent investigative journalists working in our communities. The work they do is essential,” said Weiss, an entrepreneur focusing his efforts in the graphic arts. “The purpose of the Weiss Award is to encourage more of this kind of work.”

The entries were judged by Shenid Bhayroo, assistant professor of journalism, Temple University; Charlotte Hall, retired reporter, the Orlando Sentinel andNewsday; and Eric Lipton, reporter, The New York Times.

“‘Assault on Learning’ exemplifies superb investigative journalism. Thorough research, extensive fieldwork and attention to detail resulted in a story that highlights the structural problems in the Philadelphia school system and how these problems impact various communities—students, parents, teachers and society. This story affirms that dedicated journalists working in an independent newsroom are invaluable participants in a robust public sphere, where stories can make meaningful impact and advance the public good,” Bhayroo said.

Hall said the Inquirer series “represents the essence of journalism in the public interest.”

In addition to the winner, the judges awarded two other entries “Special Recognition” prizes and $2,500 each:

• Patrick Kerkstra – Inquirer/PlanPhilly –“Deluge of Deadbeats”

 Kerkstra’s investigation into the city’s property tax delinquency epidemic is a marvel of data research and comparative analysis. Citing the Inquirer/PlanPhillyreport—which reveals that Philadelphia has the most tax-delinquent properties of major U.S. cities by an embarrassingly wide margin—members of City Council have introduced legislation modernizing the tax collection and foreclosure processes in the city.

• Jeff Cole, Gary Scurka and Mark LaValla – FOX 29 – “Drinking Postal Workers”

A hidden-camera investigation revealed several uniformed postal workers drinking heavily at a bar while on the clock, and later attempting to drive their USPS trucks back to work—at which point FOX 29 reporter Jeff Cole intervened. The report led to an investigation by the Postal Service Inspector General’s office, which confirmed the station’s findings.

The awards will be presented at an April 19 luncheon at WHYY in Philadelphia.

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