14th Annual Izzy Awards Recognize Independent Media

the Park Center for Independent Media (PCIM) held its 14th annual Izzy Awards on April 26 via Zoom, where independent media and journalists were honored for their work.

PCIM reward journalists Greg B. Smith and Jenni Monet, Better Government Association and Block Club Chicago newsrooms, and the journalism group The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. About 140 people attended the ceremony.

Jeff Cohen, founder and former director of PCIM, introduced Smith, who exposed 5,000 public housing units that contained lead paint, even though the buildings had previously been cleared of contamination. Smith’s work enabled the New York Housing Authority to receive millions of dollars to address the health and safety emergencies that management was causing, including those caused by lead paint.

“His series was horrifying, not just in the damage it exposed, the damage done to children, to families by the lead paint of those living in public housing,” Cohen said. “But the harm caused by the deceptions and cover-ups of the New York City Housing Authority. And also horrifying is that this neglect has persisted for years, even generations.

Before Smith worked for the non-profit newsroom The City, he was a reporter for the Daily News. Smith said he had tried to cover the conditions social housing tenants face in New York for years.

In 2012, Smith began investigating public housing management and uncovered numerous cases of neglect. During its investigation, The Daily News was sold to a hedge fund and Smith’s resources that once allowed him to investigate were taken away. This led him to join The City and continue his work.

“If I had continued to stay in mainstream media…I never could have written this story,” Smith said. “It would never have happened, no way. … Right now in New York, the presence of The City and local non-profit news organizations is essential because there has been a sharp drop in the number journalists who cover this sort of thing.

Jenni Monet, a tribal citizen of the Pueblo de Laguna, which is a federally recognized indigenous nation in New Mexico and a direct descendant of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa in North Dakota, created her own weekly newsletter aboriginalwhich covers Native American communities in the United States, Monet has been a journalist for about 20 years, but said she struggled to gain support from publishers for the stories she featured.

“I’ve always covered the lands and communities I know well, the ones I grew up in, Indian country, it’s been a struggle, and I don’t sugarcoat it when I say as an indigenous woman, it’s hard to go into newsrooms, commercial or otherwise, and work on stories that should be covered, and which have only recently begun to be accepted as real news,” Monet said.

According to American Society of News Editors, American by birth journalists represent less than 0.5% of journalists in major newspapers and online publications.

Kelly Bauer represented Block Chicago Cluba non-partisan, nonprofit news organization that covers Chicago news. The Block Club Chicago exposed Loretto Hospital executives for corruption, such as ineligible people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at Trump Tower in Chicago. His report led to an FBI investigation into the hospital’s vaccination program.

“It really inspires me to see the change that a small, rambling newsroom like Block Club can bring to a big city,” Bauer said. “This is not a traditional newsroom, we only opened in 2018, but we are already helping to care for people and hold power to account. I think one of the coolest things that came out of it and one of the most inspiring things for me was seeing how non-profit newsrooms like Block Club and the BGA come together to tell such stories.

the Association for Better GovernmentDavid Jackson’s senior investigative reporter worked with Bauer on his investigation and also revealed how millions of dollars in profits went to insurance companies rather than medical providers when Illinois privatized its health care program.

Throughout Jackson’s speech, he stressed the importance of independent media and following in the footsteps of journalist Izzy Stone. The Izzy Award is in honor of Isidor Feinstein “IF” Stone who created IF Stone Weekly, a newsletter that exposed government deception, McCarthyism and racial bigotry, according to PCIM Web page.

“He wasn’t liked because he was independent,” Jackson said. “Izzy Stone was loved because he adhered to the highest standards of transparency, accuracy and public service. He built that trust sentence by sentence and article by article and week after week.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was credited with uncovering the Pandora Papers, 11.9 million leaked documents and 2.9 terabytes of data that revealed how the world’s wealthy leaders committed tax evasion and money laundering.

Dean Starkman was representing the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which he says is a huge number of people based around the world.

“What is important to remember about the Pandora papers is [that] this isn’t our first rodeo,” Starkman said. “So we’ve been doing this long before I arrived, since 2013. It’s really the culmination of a decade of work.”

Starkman said the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was able to expose the Pandora Papers through collaboration, which is essential for journalists.

“When journalism is in such great peril and our economic model is collapsing, it’s important for all of us to do things like this [Izzy Awards], to support each other, to work together and basically to collaborate,” Starkman said. “For the good of journalism, but also for the good of democracy.”

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