Izzy Award 2023

The 15th annual Izzy Award ceremony recognized the outstanding work of independent journalists and outlets following the legacy of dissident journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone. The Park Center for Independent Media (PCIM) hosted the winners on April 27, 2023, with a live, virtual audience that heard passionate accounts of reporting on social injustice and political corruption.

The recipients of the 2023 award were Andrew Perez to represent The Lever, Kimberly Griffin and Donna Ladd for Mississippi Free Press, and journalists Liza Gross of Inside Climate News and Carlos Ballesteros of Injustice Watch. See the full recording of the winners speaking here:

PCIM Director Raza Rumi’s opening remarks outlined the variety of challenges that face the planet today — extreme inequalities, climate emergency, and mass-scale poverty driven by the greed and unaccountable misdoings of the extremely powerful.

“Our awardees are beacons of truth, democracy, and hope for an inclusive and equitable future for people living in the U.S. and abroad,” Rumi said. “This is why independent media and the legacy of icons, such as Izzy Stone, have become imperative for our times.”

Following Rumi to welcome the audience and winners, Dean of the Park School of Communications Amy Falkner highlighted PCIM’s commitment to engaging media producers and students in dialogue surrounding the development and proliferation of independent media.

Founding Director of PCIM and media critic Jeff Cohen introduced the evening’s first recipient: senior editor and reporter Andrew Perez of The Lever. “Whether The Lever is covering government deregulation and unsafe railroads, or covering Medicare privatization and the way Democratic leaders have obstructed healthcare reform, or the dark money financing of politicians, The Lever is on this anti-corruption beat. Every. Single. Day.”

Andrew Perez played a leading role in exposing the single largest dark money political advocacy donation discovered in the history of the U.S. He detailed his gratitude for working with an organization that encourages him to challenge power, corporate interests, and politicians from both political parties.

“With support from readers, we are competing with some of the biggest news outlets in Media, and we’re doing so without compromising,” Perez stated.

Esther Kaplan, investigations editor at Insider and former editor-at-large at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, introduced the nonprofit, women-run outlet Mississippi Free Press. Kaplan described the outlet’s emergence as “a formidable muckraking force whose reporting courageously exposes racial and economic inequities in the state of Mississippi.”

Acknowledging the outlet’s newsroom as the most inclusive in the state, largely comprising native Mississippians, publisher Kimberly Griffin wished to honor the MFP team and the often thankless work it does.

“I’d like you to know that we’ve worked hard to ensure our team looks like Mississippi,” Griffin said. “It means our state has the largest African American population and is home to the Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians, and so many different communities in between. Those are the communities we listen to and learn from.”

 Editor, CEO, and co-founder of Mississippi Free Press Donna Ladd focused on the power of “systemic reporting” to expose racial and economic fault lines, thereby showing readers how those in power shape policy in the state. She expressed the outlet’s commitment to innovating journalism in Mississippi by focusing on systems at the core of its reporting, saying, “Good journalism is about so much more than catching the bad guy.”

Patricia Rodriguez, who is an analyst at Earthworks in Washington, D.C., and former Chair of the Department of Politics at Ithaca College, introduced recipient Liza Gross, reporter for Inside Climate News and author of The Science Writers’ Investigative Reporting Handbook.

Rodriguez said, “The power of [Gross’] work lies in delivering to readers a solid understanding of the ramifications of the oil and gas industry, and then the use of evidence based both on science and on the harsh realities of impacted populations.”

Gross unpacked the use of corporate practices dating back to the mid-nineties and the conflicts of interest involved in big food safety projects hiring so-called “neutral” players with ties to Big Oil. “It seemed incredible to me that California, a state that presents itself as a climate leader, allows oil companies to use fresh water to extract the fossil fuels that exacerbate drought,” said Gross.

Victor Pickard, author and professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania, introduced the evening’s final winner, Carlos Ballesteros of Injustice Watch. The judges cited Ballesteros’ reporting as falling precisely within the spirit of I.F. Stone, covering systemic corruption and inspiring activism, social change, and a movement toward structural solutions.

Pickard said, “Carlos’ in-depth stories drew attention to underreported and widely misunderstood abuses of immigration laws, leading to official investigations and policy changes that positively affected some of our most vulnerable communities.”

Ballesteros explained how policy for U visas in Chicago allowed police to baselessly reject applications for undocumented victims of crime. U visas are still backlogged, but Ballesteros’ story spurred an investigation by the Attorney General of Illinois into CPD’s repeated denials. Ballesteros expressed that “there’s a deeper problem here, systemic issue, but thankfully, through our story, we were able to maybe effect some positive change here on the ground.”