On April 26, 2022, the Park Center for Independent Media hosted the 14th annual Izzy Award ceremony. This year’s award, named after legendary dissident journalist I.F. Stone, honored five news organizations and journalists that represent outstanding achievement in independent media from 2021.
PCIM Director Raza Rumi’s opening remarks outlined several trends degrading the quality of today’s media ecosystem, including conglomeration, the demise of local journalism, constraints on investigations, the rise of tech giants, and the absence of marginalized voices in media narratives. “For all these reasons,” Rumi said, “it is urgent to continue the legacy of Izzy Stone and honor those who embark on truth telling in these difficult times.”
Izzy Award judge and editor-at-large for 100Reporters Linda Jue introduced the evening’s first recipient: Senior Editor Dean Starkman of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ’s 2021 investigation, the Pandora Papers, amounted to the largest ever journalism partnership in history. It revealed the secretive system that allows the world’s rich to hide money offshore and dodge taxes. Starkman said the investigation “is the culmination of a decade’s worth of work.”
Starkman spoke to the importance of such journalistic collaborations, saying, “We’ve been witnessing this massive collapse of journalistic infrastructure … It’s important for all of us to support each other, to work together, and to collaborate. For the good of journalism and for the good of democracy.” Starkman later remarked on journalistic practice to say, “You need people out there doing reporting, knocking on doors, climbing stairs — all old stuff that brings trust and information to the public.”
Jeff Cohen, founding director of PCIM, introduced reporter Greg B. Smith of THE CITY. Smith’s investigations uncovered the negligence of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which has lead to a long history of dangerous living conditions, disrepair, and lead poisoning. Introducing his work, Smith said, “One of the major issues I ran into while poking into this story was the issue of lead paint” in apartments that were considered to be lead free.
Smith went on, “If I continued to stay in mainstream media — what I call hedge-fund media — I would have never been able to write that story. The nonprofit entity that I now work for is a phenomenal platform to get this news out there.” He later talked about gaining the trust of his sources, saying, “Marginalized people who don’t have a huge megaphone to get their voices heard — talking to them, you realize they’ve been dying to talk to somebody because nobody listens to them.”
Raza Rumi introduced Kelly Bauer, the breaking news editor for Block Club Chicago, a nonprofit digital news publication covering the city’s neighborhoods. Bauer, in collaboration with David Jackson, broke numerous stories on corruption at Loretto Hospital, a safety-net medical center serving mostly Black and Latino residents on Chicago’s West Side.
Bauer described tips from the community leading to her stories, and eventually an FBI probe examining how the hospital’s vaccination program gave doses to ineligible people with ties to its administrators. “This isn’t some traditional newsroom. We only opened in 2018. But we’re already working to help people and hold people to account.” Bauer later spoke regarding young journalists, saying, “I always encourage folks to think about the mentoring they got and try to pass that on to younger people.”
Linda Jue welcomed David Jackson, senior investigative reporter at Better Government Association. In addition to investigating Loretto Hospital with Kelly Bauer and Block Club Chicago, Jackson published the BGA series “Milking Medicaid,” which laid bare the malfeasant conflicts of interest at the top of Illinois’ Medicaid program.
Jackson’s reporting showed that when Illinois privatized its healthcare program for the poor, hundreds of millions of dollars in profits shifted to insurance companies and away from medical providers and Medicaid recipients. “To connect with America and win back public trust,” Jackson said, “the children and grandchildren of Izzy Stone will have to recapture what those corporate newsrooms have squandered and lost.”
Patricia Rodriguez, associate professor and chair of the Department of Politics at Ithaca College, introduced the evening’s final winner, Jenni Monet. With her newsletter, “Indigenously: Decolonizing Your Newsfeed,” Monet produces reader-funded reporting each week concerning Indigenous affairs, filling in gaps left by public education and media ecosystems. “Each edition is centered around a certain theme that speaks to what is happening in the Indigenous world,” she said.
Monet speaks to the beauty of community and conservation from her travels in Alaska and confronts the legacy of violence and ignorance still haunting Native Americans today. She says, “This is meant to be a brave portal to challenge questions and events that you’re just not seeing in your newsfeed.”