by Kevin Allman
All of us at Gambit want to extend our congratulations to our friend Lee Zurik over at WWL-TV, who has received top honors from the Society of Investigative Reporters and Editors for his series that broke open the NOAH housing scandal last summer. Zurik received the group's top prize, the IRE Medal, and was chosen from more than 380 entries. The judges' comments:
Judges' comments: In a rolling investigation of 50 television segments, WWL-TV of New Orleans uncovered corruption in a city agency charged with helping rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Following a source's tip, reporter Lee Zurik and his team examined New Orleans Affordable Housing records and found that money was paid to contractors to repair homes that never received any improvementsor didnt exist at all. WWL's investigation found close ties between agency managers, Mayor Ray Nagin, and the contractors doing the alleged improvements. The journalist stuck to the story in the face of public intimidation and strong initial denials by Nagin. In court, WWL forced the city to disclose agency records. The results were impressive: The program was suspended, the employees were fired and a federal grand jury launched an investigation.
It should be noted, of course, that the "source's tip" came from Karen Gadbois and her partner Sarah Elise Lewis and their Web site Squandered Heritage. Maybe in future years the IRE will also bestow laurels on investigative bloggers ... but in the meantime, congrats, Lee, and well-deserved.