Columbia Journalism School announced today that reporters from ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity won the 2021 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award and the 2021 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, respectively. A reporter for Type Investigations is the finalist for the Berger Award.
Joe Sexton, a reporter and senior editor at ProPublica, has won the 2021 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for “He’d Waited Decades to Argue His Innocence.” Sexton’s deeply reported story explores two sides of the criminal justice system: a teenage boy named Nelson Cruz who was convicted for a 1998 murder solely on the testimony of one biased and tainted witness, and a judge afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s who heard his appeal decades later. ProPublica Editor in Chief Stephen Engelberg said, “Sexton’s masterful, empathetic and damning story explores the lives and losses of both Cruz and the judge; it probes whether the institutions overseeing our nation’s judges are equipped to deal with questions of impairment on the bench; and it makes a convincing argument that Cruz, guilty or innocent, has been denied fairness in a uniquely tragic way.” The Berger Award, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is awarded annually to a reporter(s) for an outstanding example of in-depth, human interest reporting. The award carries a $1,500 honorarium.
Susan Ferriss, reporter, Joe Yerardi, data reporter and Taylor Johnston, data fellow, of the Center for Public Integrity have won the 2021 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for their investigative project “Hidden Hardship.” The series is a data-rich investigation into U.S. food production’s overwhelming reliance on immigrants and foreign guest workers that shows how immigrant workers went unprotected last year as they risked their lives during the pandemic and at a time when the U.S. president portrayed them as a burden to Americans. Using meticulous analysis of U.S. Census microdata, and data on COVID-19 cases and deaths by the New York Times, the reporting team found that 43% of nearly 2 million front-line farm and processing workers nationwide are immigrants — mostly Latino and many noncitizens. The Tobenkin Award honors the late New York Herald Tribune reporter, and recognizes outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States. The award also carries a $1,500 honorarium.
Justine van der Leun, a reporter with Type Investigations, was selected as a finalist for the 2021 Berger Award for “The Evidence Against Her,” an in-depth investigation into one young mother’s case that exposed flaws in self-defense statutes created by and for men. Through her case, Van der Leun analyzed gender-based criminalization to show how the justice system punishes the victims of abuse it is designed to protect.
2021 Berger Award Jurors’ Citation:
Joe Sexton is the winner of the 2021 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for his ProPublica story entitled, “He’d Waited Decades to Argue His Innocence. She Was a Judge Who Believed in Second Chances. Nobody Knew She Suffered from Alzheimer’s.”
The story, of a possible injustice meeting an illness, uniquely shows two sides of the criminal justice system: a teenage boy convicted for a 1998 murder solely on the testimony of one biased and tainted witness, and a judge afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s who heard his appeal decades later. The deeply reported story by Joe Sexton has the rare quality of making the reader feel compassion for both the judge and the man trying to gain his freedom.
Nelson Cruz was 16 when he was arrested and charged with killing a street tough in Brooklyn. The holding of the 9mm pistol near the body told police Cruz gave him the gun and ran away. There were no other witnesses and no physical evidence. Cruz was convicted and sentenced for 25 years to life. ShawnDya Simpson became a prosecutor in Brooklyn in 1991 and had a meteoric rise, eventually becoming a state supreme court judge in 2016. She had a reputation for being sympathetic to cases like Cruz’s. But two years after she took the bench, her husband noticed a change in Simpson: she was forgetful. Lawyers coming before Simpson began to complain; amid this, Nelson Cruz’s case landed on her docket.
Sexton’s story is filled with humanity and nuance. Sexton deftly walks through the decades of these two lives. Cruz is still in prison and Simpson has stepped down from the bench. The story resulted in Cruz being assigned a new judge and Judge Simpson’s husband volunteering to assist with how her condition may have impacted the cases she heard.
Jurors: Joanne Faryon, Meg Kissinger and Dale Maharidge
Link to work:
“He’d Waited Decades to Argue His Innocence. She Was a Judge Who Believed in Second Chances. Nobody Knew She Suffered from Alzheimer’s”
2021 Tobenkin Award Jurors’ Citation:
Reporter Susan Ferriss, Data Reporter Joe Yerardi and Data Fellow Taylor Johnston of the Center for Public Integrity have won the 2021 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for their investigative project “Hidden Hardship.” During the darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, as former President Donald Trump continued to spur anti-immigrant sentiment, many thousands of mostly Latino immigrant workers at U.S. farms and meat processing plants were risking and sacrificing their lives to feed a country in crisis. Their unrecognized contributions in key counties driving the nation’s food supply, their mistreatment by employers and unreported deaths became the focus of "Hidden Hardship."
Using meticulous analysis of U.S. Census microdata compiled by the University of Minnesota, and data on COVID-19 cases and deaths by the New York Times, the reporting team found that 43% of nearly 2 million front-line farm and processing workers nationwide are immigrants — mostly Latino and many noncitizens. Many of them toil on farms and plants unprotected from the virus in states like Texas, Florida, California, Washington and Georgia that have become COVID-19 hotspots with Latino immigrants disproportionately affected.
The report describes how Trump’s executive order to keep meat-packing plants open during the pandemic put laborers who must work in close proximity to each other at risk. Those who are undocumented or are part of families with “mixed-status” members were denied eligibility for benefits in the CARES Act and other government assistance. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus disseminated the Center’s work as evidence of the need for major reforms in the treatment of immigrant workers in the business of food production.
For the thorough analysis of data, tracking of individual stories of workers, and interviews revealing a deeply ingrained hypocrisy in American policies that both rely upon and discriminate against immigrant workers in the food production industry, we are proud to award Center For Public Integrity’s “Hidden Hardship” series the 2021 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award.
Jurors: Nina Alvarez, Dolores A. Barclay and Elena Cabral
Link to work:
2021 Berger Award Finalist:
Link to work:
“The Evidence Against Her”