The Scripps Howard Foundation announced today that three projects from ProPublica and the ProPublica Local Reporting Network are finalists for the Scripps Howard National Journalism Awards. The work was honored in the categories of human interest storytelling, environmental reporting and broadcast – national, international coverage.
“Blood Will Tell,” a two-part investigation jointly published by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, was nominated for human interest storytelling. ProPublica senior reporter Pamela Colloff, also a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine, told the story of Joe Bryan, a beloved high school principal whose wife, Mickey, was shot to death in their Texas home in 1985. While not initially considered a suspect, Bryan was arrested and charged with her murder. The prosecution’s case rested largely on the testimony of a “bloodstain-pattern analyst,” a police detective whose interpretation of the bloodied evidence made the state’s circumstantial case against Bryan seem plausible.
Colloff’s series exposed the failings of bloodstain-pattern analysis, leading to real-life repercussions. Days after the article’s publication, the Texas Forensic Science Commission retained an independent expert to re-examine the bloodstain-pattern analysis used to convict Bryan. The commission found that the expert whose testimony helped secure the conviction was “entirely wrong,” and that his claims were “not accurate or scientifically supported.” The state’s case unraveled further when the expert admitted that his conclusions were incorrect. Texas’ highest criminal court is now considering whether to recommend that Bryan’s conviction be overturned.
A project from the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica, was nominated for environmental reporting. Led by Gazette-Mail reporter Ken Ward Jr., “The New Power Brokers” illuminated how the natural gas industry is gaining power in West Virginia as a strong economic and political force — and the real-life effects of the industry on communities. The series showed how the relentless traffic and noise from heavy machinery has made life unbearable for residents, especially for those who live closest to gas-drilling operations, and how landowners have been unable to stop gas companies from drilling right on their private property. The reporting also explained how regulatory agencies are bending their rules and looking past blatant violations.
“Documenting Hate,” a collaboration between ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson and Frontline, was nominated in the category of broadcast – national, international coverage. The two-part documentary outed some of the most violent figures within America’s resurgent white supremacist movement, as well as the movement’s links to the U.S. military and governmental failures to curb the criminal activities of dangerous white power groups. The investigation identified former and active-duty members of the military as members of Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group. Within weeks of the report, the U.S. Marine Corps announced that it had opened a criminal investigation into the activities of Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis, whom the documentary identified as a violent white supremacist who took part in the Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstration in August 2017. Pistolis was later convicted at a court-martial on charges of disobeying orders and making false statements, and he was dismissed from the Marines.
ProPublica and Frontline also reported on the violent white supremacist Rise Above Movement. As a result, Michael Miselis, an aerospace engineer with a government security clearance identified as a member of RAM, was out of his job at defense contractor Northrop Grumman. In addition, citing ProPublica and Frontline’s reporting, federal prosecutors announced they had arrested or charged four members or associates of RAM — Robert Rundo, Robert Boman, Tyler Laube and Aaron Eason — over their alleged role in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
See a full list of Scripps Howard Award finalists here.