2021 Ohio APME- Newspaper

Best Investigative Reporting ( Division V)Back

  • Place Name: First Place
    Contestant Name: Dayton Daily News
    Entry Title: Federal rental assistance checks went to landlords of uninhabitable properties
    Entry Credit: Josh Sweigart, Chris Stewart
    Judge Comment: The authors used FOIA and gumshoe reporting to look into a county rental assistance program funded with millions in federal CARES Act money. The program was meant to help tenants avoid eviction during the pandemic, but by personally visiting homes and tracking down residents the reporters discovered checks were going to pay "rent" for abandoned properties where nobody lived; landlords pocketed checks for rent that had already been paid by the federal Section 8 housing program; and renters didn't even know they had gotten the assistance until contacted by the reporters. In some cases, landlords pocketed tens of thousands of dollars and evicted the residents anyway. The reporting resulted in greater scrutiny of federal CARES Act funding, and launched an FBI investigation that is still ongoing. Some landlords reimbursed tenants for money they should have received. Amazingly, following the expose the program received a glowing report from the county auditor, which was also reported by the authors. This is the kind of project that shows why we need local newspapers. Watchdog reporting of the highest order.
  • Place Name: Second Place
    Contestant Name: The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
    Entry Title: East Cleveland police chases
    Entry Credit: cleveland.com staff
    Judge Comment: Reporters gathered data on every one of 105 police chases that occurred early in the year in East Cleveland, looking at the time of day, race of the driver, reason for the chase and other data, for an in-depth investigation into the city's high number of police chases. They also tracked down the drivers, whose top reason for fleeing was fear of police. The investigation revealed how the police department's history of maltreatment and racial profiling, an inexperienced and underpaid police force, shaky city finances and discord between the City Council, mayor and police chief all contribute to a culture that encourages police chases on an almost daily basis. One story revealed that civil rights attorneys no longer bring lawsuits against the city, because East Cleveland already owes millions in unpaid judgements from previous lawsuits. The series also included a riveting account of a nearly half-hour police chase that ended with a crash. A comprehensive investigation in the public interest.
  • Place Name: Third Place
    Contestant Name: The Columbus Dispatch
    Entry Title: Dispatch investigation finds Columbus Zoo executives using assets for personal use
    Entry Credit: Jennifer Smola Shaffer, Alissa Widman Neese
    Judge Comment: This story began with the reporters' discovery that the Columbus Zoo CEO and CFO were renting zoo-owned houses to relatives and taking tickets for shows and sporting events that were meant to be used for marketing purposes. The story prompted investigations by the zoo's board, outside auditors and the Attorney General's Office that revealed ever deeper layers of self-dealing by zoo officials -- from the CEO's purchase of a $45,000 recreational vehicle that he used for a family vacation, to the CFO obtaining 60 Columbus Blue Jackets ticket s for his son and his son's friends. The reporters used FOIA to obtain emails sent by relatives to zoo officials requesting box seats at athletic events where they charged hundreds of dollars of food and drinks to zoo credit cards. This outrageous conduct would have gone undetected were it not for the dogged reporting of the Dispatch team.