The Peabody, awarded annually since 1943 by the University of Georgia Grady School of Journalism, honors excellence, distinguished achievement, and meritorious public service in electronic media. WVUE and NOLA.com were co-recipients of the award, which recognized broadcast and online content, including searchable databases of four years worth of Louisiana campaign contributions and expenditures.
Other 2013 recipients, chosen from more than 1,000 entries, include CBS (Charlie Rose’s interview of Syria President Bashar Assad); NBC (“In Plain Sight: Poverty in America”); NPR (“The Race Card Project” on “Morning Edition”); HBO (“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of Go,” which featured local author Jason Berry); PBS (“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” which featured a sequence on New Orleans’ Ruby Bridges); CNN (“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown”); BBC America (“Inside Syria’s War”); and the fictional series “House of Cards (Netflix) and “Breaking Bad” (AMC).
Of “Louisiana Purchased,” the judges wrote:
“Plenty big, never easy, this extensive joint TV-newspaper investigation of Louisiana campaign financing – who gives and gets what – put influence peddlers and buyers on notice and provided TV-news operations around the country a template for ambitious digging.”
The project was led by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s enterprise editor Manuel Torres and WVUE Fox 8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik, and included the contributions of dozens of staffers at the website, newspaper and TV station.
The news organizations’ groundbreaking partnership has resulted in dozens of reports online at NOLA.com, in print in The Times-Picayune and in broadcast at WVUE, detailing how a relatively small number of wealthy donors and special interests are taking advantage of Louisiana’s lax campaign finance laws to exert outsized political influence.
Reporters also have exposed how politicians used millions of dollars in campaign contributions to pay for questionable expenses, ranging from luxury suites at Tiger Stadium and the Superdome to meals at pricey restaurants, golf rounds, hunting trips and wedding gifts – among other expenses.
The series has fueled calls for tighter campaign finance laws, and several bills have been filed in the current legislative session, including Senate Bill 394, which would prohibit anyone who has an outstanding ethics fine from serving on state boards and commission.
The Peabody is the second major national award the series has received this week. “Louisiana Purchased” also won a Headliner Award on Monday.
“We’re very proud of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune’s partnership with WVUE,” said Ricky Mathews, publisher of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. “It’s resulted in important public service journalism and, we hope, reforms in Louisiana’s campaign financing. The Peabody Award is a great recognition of our joint work.”
“Our partnership with WVUE has resulted in great watchdog journalism in the service of this community,” said Jim Amoss, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s editor.
“We are so proud of the quality of the journalism that is being honored with the Peabody Award,” WVUE Fox 8 News Director Mikel Schaefer said. “It was a true team effort and we couldn’t be more excited what this investigation has accomplished and where it continues to go.”
Added WVUE General Manager Sandy Breland, “This is an incredible honor for WVUE and NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. It’s gratifying to see those who spent countless hours working on this series recognized in this way. But, even more rewarding is that our joint effort produced the kind of journalism that has impact prompting change and reform.”
The awards will be presented May 19 in New York. Explore the series here.