The Meyer “Mike” Berger Award
The Berger Award, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is awarded by the faculty of the Journalism School to a reporter or a team of reporters for an outstanding example of in-depth, human-interest reporting. The award is given annually at graduation. #BergerAward
2023 Mike Berger Award Winner
2023 Berger Award Jurors’ Citation:
Lynzy Billing is the winner of the 2023 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for her ProPublica story entitled “The Night Raids,” about CIA-directed death squads called “Zero Units” in Afghanistan that killed countless hundreds. Often raids were based on staggeringly flawed intelligence and resulted in scores of executions--farmers, students and teachers with no connection to the Taliban. For over three years, working solo for most of them, Billing did diligent shoe-leather reporting across dangerous swaths of Afghanistan.
She takes the reader into the shadows of the U.S. war on terrorism that accomplished the opposite of what was intended. “You go on night raids, make more enemies, then you gotta go on more night raids for the more enemies you now have to kill,” a member of the U.S. special operations forces told Billing, about his regularly going out with Zero Units.
It began as a personal quest. Billing’s mother and twin sister were killed thirty years earlier in a night raid in the civil war that followed the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Her father later died in the conflict. She soon learned about the Zero Units, and visited the sites of 30 raids. She interviewed doctors, forensic examiners, eyewitnesses, and family members of civilians shot point-blank. She gained the trust of Afghan commandos who questioned their actions, and interviewed the former Afghan spy chief who admitted to raids being conducted on flawed intelligence. Billing’s gripping and powerfully written story echoes the CIA-spawned “Phoenix Program” during the Vietnam War that also killed innocents. “The Night Raids” should be read by U.S. citizens so they know what is being done in their name, as well as everyone at the CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters.
The Berger Award is now closed for nominations.
Members of the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism judge the entries for the Berger award. The award, which consists of a certificate from Columbia and a $1,500 prize, is conferred annually at the School’s Journalism Day ceremony in May.
Berger won a 1950 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for his story on a veteran who went on a shooting spree in Camden, New Jersey, killing several residents. He then reintroduced the newspaper’s “About New York” column in the early 1950s, setting the standard for evocative and eloquent human-interest reporting. Berger passed away in 1959. Louis Schweitzer, a New York industrialist who admired Berger’s work, created the Berger Award in 1960.
Evan Allen, Boston Globe, “Under the Wheel.” Judges Joanne Faryon, David Hajdu and Dale Maharidge
Joe Sexton, ProPublica, "He’d Waited Decades to Argue His Innocence” Judges Joanne Faryon, Meg Kissinger and Dale Maharidge
Thomas Curwen and Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times, "The Street Within" , an immersive series that followed eight residents of a homeless encampment who were fast-tracked to apartments in South Los Angeles. Judges Joanne Faryon, Meg Kissinger and Dale Maharidge
Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post, A series on Americans who were challenged in deeply personal ways by some of the most significant political and social issues of the day including the opioid crisis and immigration: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Judges Joanne Faryon, Meg Kissinger and Dale Maharidge
Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, The Marshall Project and ProPublica, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” Judges David Hajdu, Dale Maharidge and Ruth Padawer
Joanne Faryon and Brad Racino, inewsource, “An Impossible Choice: Deciding When a Life is No Longer Worth Living.” Judges Andie Tucher, David Hajdu and Dale Maharidge
Julia O’Malley, Anchorage Daily News, “The Things that Happen: Two Boys and Cancer.” Judges Andie Tucher, David Hajdu and Jonathan Weiner
Sheri Fink, Freelance, A series of pieces exploring the catastrophic consequences of bureaucratic, structural, and political failures during the deadly hurricane season of 2012. Judges David Hajdu, Michael Shapiro and Andie Tucher
John Branch, New York Times, “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” Judges Sheila Coronel, Andie Tucher and Dale Maharidge
Anne Barnard, New York Times, “A Parish Tested.” Judges Columbia Journalism School Faculty
Joanna Connors, The Plain Dealer, "The Sheltering Sky.” Judges Columbia Journalism School Faculty
Brendan McCarthy, Times-Picayune, "Homicide 37." Judges Columbia Journalism School Faculty
Michael Paulson, The Boston Globe, "Ma Siss’s Place: The Birth of a Church." Judges Columbia Journalism School Faculty
Abigail Tucker, The Baltimore Sun, 2006 Reporting. Judges Columbia Journalism School Faculty
The Berger Award is judged by Columbia Journalism School faculty.
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