The Park Center for Independent Media (PCIM) at Ithaca College has announced that this year’s Izzy Award “for outstanding achievement in independent media” will be shared by nonprofit news outlets The Lever and Mississippi Free Press for exposing corruption and giving voice to marginalized communities; journalist Carlos Ballesteros for uncovering police misconduct and immigration injustice; and Liza Gross for exposing damaging manipulations by the oil-industrial complex.
The ceremony will be held Thursday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Zoom.
The Izzy Award is named for I. F. “Izzy” Stone, the dissident journalist who launched I. F. Stone’s Weekly in 1953 and questioned McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, racial injustice, and government deceit. An award ceremony will be scheduled for late April 2023.
The Lever is a reader-supported investigative news outlet that holds accountable the people and corporations manipulating the levers of power. Its reporting, podcasts, videos, and live events focus on politics, business and corruption — and how money shapes and distorts economic and environmental policy.
A four-part series published last year by Andrew Perez of The Lever in partnership with ProPublica, titled “Inside The Right’s Historic Billion-Dollar Dark Money Transfer,” followed the money behind the architect of the conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court, Leonard Leo. The investigation exposed Chicago businessman Barre Seid’s $1.6 billion donation to Leo’s political advocacy nonprofit in the largest known dark money transfer in history.
The judges commented: “No news outlet is as thorough and relentless as The Lever in exposing the corrupting influence of corporate power on government and both major parties. From dark money influence on the Supreme Court to Medicare privatization to the dangers of deregulation to other topics, The Lever‘s investigative team is on the corruption beat day after day. Led by 2015 Izzy Award winner David Sirota, The Lever is nonpartisan and subscriber funded, just like I.F. Stone’s Weekly.”
Mississippi Free Press
Only three years after its launch, the nonprofit Mississippi Free Press has established itself as a formidable muckraking force whose reporting consistently exposes racial and economic inequities in the state of Mississippi. The women-run outlet led extensive coverage of the water crisis in Jackson, when the city’s water mains collapsed in the face of unusual freezing temperatures despite a $200 million investment in repairs. The series intimately captured the impact on local families and exposed a catastrophic failure of coordination among elected officials.
Last year, the outlet also obtained a tranche of emails between donors and University of Mississippi officials, rolling out a startling series that pulled back the curtain on how the university coddles a network of monied alumni, offering them outsized access and influence even in the face of open expressions of racism. And the Free Press has worked to expand public access to open records, filing complaints with the state ethics commission to fight for access to state legislative caucus meetings.
“The Mississippi Free Press is an impressive argument for the importance of local nonprofit news,” the judges said. “Its fearless and empathetic reporting exposes racial and economic fault lines that go back centuries, vividly exposing how they shape politics and power in Mississippi in the 21st century.”
Carlos Ballesteros, Injustice Watch
Carlos Ballesteros’s investigation with Injustice Watch exposed how the Chicago Police department issued inordinate and arbitrary denials of U visas, a path to citizenship for undocumented victims of crime. Most of these denials were revealed to be from the same two officers, both with troubled histories. As a result of this reporting, CPD informed immigration lawyers that its office of legal counsel would review every U visa, and a member of the Chicago City Council introduced a resolution calling for hearings with CPD and the city’s law department to determine new procedures for the visa. Ballesteros’s reporting led to plans by the U Visa task force of the National Immigrant Justice Center to appeal and refile some of the requests that were denied, and to an investigation by the Attorney General of Illinois into CPD’s repeated U visa denials.
According to the judges, “Carlos Ballesteros’s dogged reporting for Injustice Watch does exactly what investigative journalism in the spirit of I.F. Stone is supposed to do. It uncovers systemic corruption and helps galvanize movement toward structural solutions. Ballesteros’s in-depth stories drew attention to underreported and misunderstood abuses of immigration laws, leading to official investigations and policy changes that positively affected some of our most vulnerable communities.”
Liza Gross, Inside Climate News
Investigative reporting by Liza Gross of Inside Climate News revealed in rural Kern County, California, the heavy hand of the oil-industrial complex on water quality and management. In Kern County, crude oil requires 18 barrels of water per one barrel of extracted oil, and oil companies sell the resulting contaminated water to California farms.
Gross reported how food safety boards approved the use of oil wastewater for agricultural irrigation despite the impact of the toxic chemicals on water, crops, and soil, raising critical food safety and public health concerns. The investigations showed how it was possible for an environmental consulting firm — one that receives funding from and provides extensive “expert” witness support for oil giants like Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil — to get officially contracted to provide what they argue is an impartial assessment of water quality.
“Gross’s work uncovered how oil companies divert millions of gallons of high-quality water in a drought-impacted state toward oil drilling projects,” according to the judges, “thereby bringing public attention to flagrant corporate malfeasance.”
This year’s judges were Jeff Cohen, founding PCIM director and founder of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting); Esther Kaplan, investigations editor at Insider; Victor Pickard, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Patricia Rodriguez, former chair of the Department of Politics at Ithaca College and analyst at Earthworks in Washington, D.C.; and Raza Rumi, director of the Park Center for Independent Media.
For more information on the Park Center for Independent Media, visit www.ithaca.edu/indy.