AP reporters win Polk award for seafood slavery probe

AP News
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Posted: Feb 15, 2016 9:02 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Four journalists from The Associated Press are among the winners of the 67th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism for a series of articles documenting the use of slave labor in the commercial seafood industry in Indonesia and Thailand.

The AP reporters, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan, will share the award for foreign reporting with Ian Urbina of The New York Times, for a separate series portraying widespread lawlessness at sea.

The awards were announced Sunday by Long Island University.

Journalists who wrote about segregated schools, killings by police officers and Bill Cosby's accusers were also honored for their work in 2015.

The AP journalists documented how men from Myanmar and other countries were being imprisoned, sometimes in cages, in an island village in Indonesia and forced to work on vessels that sent seafood to Thailand. The project involved interviewing captives and tracking slave-caught seafood to processing plants that supply supermarkets, restaurants and pet stores in the U.S.

After some trawlers fled the island following publication of the initial investigation, the AP tracked the vessels using satellite technology to a strait in Papua New Guinea. Subsequent AP reports detailed the use of slave labor in processing shrimp.

More than 2,000 enslaved fishermen were freed after officials took action as a result of the AP's reporting.

The Polk Awards were created in 1949 in honor of CBS reporter George W. Polk, who was killed while covering the Greek civil war. This year's awards will be given out April 18. Charlayne Hunter-Gault will read the citations at the ceremony.

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, called the four AP journalists "incredibly brave and tenacious."

"Their painstaking work directly linked the horror of slavery to America's grocery shelves and has led to real and substantial change," Carroll said. "Most important, more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen have been freed specifically because of what these journalists exposed."

Simeon Booker, a black journalist who covered the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, then spent decades covering the civil rights movement and the segregated South for Jet magazine, will be named the 34th recipient of the George Polk Career Award.

Journalists from the Washington Post, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, the Tampa Bay Times, The Marshall Project, ProPublica, The New York Times, the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Foreign Policy Magazine, CBS News, the radio program "This American Life," and the documentary film "Cartel Land" will also be honored with awards in 14 other categories.

John Darnton, curator of the awards, said many of the 580 nominated works in the contest dealt with police killings and misconduct.

The award for National Reporting will go to The Washington Post for a review that concluded that 990 people were shot and killed by on-duty police officers last year — far more than the number included in official FBI statistics.

Jamie Kalven, of the Invisible Institute, will receive an award for local reporting for an article published in Slate that challenged official accounts of the 2014 police shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald.

An award for justice reporting will go to Ken Armstrong, of The Marshall Project, and T. Christian Miller, of ProPublica, for an article exploring how a serial rapist eluded police investigators, including some who accused one 18-year-old victim of fabricating her story, until a group of detectives cracked the case.

Terrence McCoy, of the Washington Post, will receive an award for regional reporting for a series of reports from Maryland and Virginia on companies that buy the rights to court-ordered compensation from victims for a fraction of their value.

An award for financial reporting will go to John Carreyrou, of The Wall Street Journal, whose investigation of Theranos, Inc. and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, raised doubts about the firm's claims that its new procedure for drawing and testing blood was a medical breakthrough in wide use at the company's labs.

Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner, and Michael LaForgia, of the Tampa Bay Times, will be recognized for education reporting. Their series traced the decline of black student achievement in Florida's Pinellas County to a school board rezoning decision in 2007 that effectively re-segregated five schools.

An award for legal reporting will go to Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Michael Corkery, and Robert Gebeloff of The New York Times for a series of articles detailing how corporations avoid legal responsibility by adding arbitration clauses to millions of consumer and employee contracts, "compelling plaintiffs to take disputes to private arbitration often rigged in the company's favor and banning them from joining class action lawsuits."

Nicholas Kulish, Christopher Drew, Mark Mazzetti, Matthew Rosenberg, Serge F. Kovaleski, Sean D. Naylor, and John Ismay, of The New York Times, will receive an award for military reporting for an investigation showing U.S. Navy Seal teams operated with little accountability and took on broader roles than acknowledged.

An award for medical reporting will go to Jason Cherkis of the Huffington Post whose eight-part series showed that many publicly funded centers were not permitted to prescribe effective medication-assisted therapy for heroin addiction due to pressure from 12-step programs, which don't consider patients who use medicine to get off heroin to be fully recovered.

The magazine reporting award is to go to reporters Noreen Malone and Jen Kirby, who along with photographer Amanda Demme, worked under Jody Quon, photography director, of New York Magazine. They combined for a multimedia story on the accounts of 35 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.

An award for photography will go to Andrew Quilty of Foreign Policy Magazine, who documented the effect of an errant U.S. airstike in October that destroyed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan and killed 42.

A radio reporting award will go to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her broadcast on This American Life. Her report reinforced the importance of school integration for the success of minority students.

Jim Axelrod and producer Emily Rand of CBS News will receive the television reporting award for exposing a pattern of compounding pharmacies exploiting a largely unregulated sector of the U.S. health care system.

The documentary film award will be presented for "Cartel Land," an Oscar-nominated documentary on the Mexican drug war.