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Listen, Listen Well, and Tell it All

Recap from the Richard H. Driehaus Awards for Investigative Reporting.

By News

Two men on a stage dressed in studs. Both are laughing.

After figuring out who his birth parents were, David Barstow (left) felt empowered to go into investigative journalism. He became the first reporter to win four Pulitzer Prizes. Photo by Better Government Association / Kasia Jarosz.

A sweltering summer evening in Chicago didn’t deter journalists from attending the June 21 ceremony for The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting. These awards, organized by the Illinois watchdog organization Better Government Association (BGA), recognize and highlight investigative reporting as a vehicle for reform. True to that purpose, this year’s slate of 30+ nominees uncovered a wide range of abuses and reinforced the need for accountability. 

Award winners exposed issues like Loretto hospital improperly diverting vaccines away from lower-income communities and for the benefit of staff at Trump Tower, long-running sexual harassment by Chicago Park District lifeguards, agri-business economic influence over land-grant universities, the lack of distribution of crime victims’ funds to those victims, and more.

The night also included a discussion on the role of investigative journalism between BGA President and CEO David Greising and former New York Times senior writer David Barstow. Barstow, who is the first reporter to receive four Pulitzer Prizes, received a Pulitzer along with former Times colleagues Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner for an exposé on Donald Trump’s taxes. He first realized his interest in investigative journalism after he researched and identified his birth parents. 

“I had the power to figure it out,” Barstow said. 

Barstow compared a journalist to a gardener pulling weeds. The journalist must continue pulling the weeds and writing about them, knowing they’ll grow back. Barstow recognized that this is what freedom of the press in the United States allows and which, as he noted, gave him “the right to write a 14,000 word piece on the crimes of the President and still go back and do it again.”

Journalists “owe it to readers” to say what the reporting shows and also to say it clearly. “Listen, listen well, and tell it all,” Barstow remarked. Bad journalism, he says, is “manipulative and more about the story than the people in it.” He suggests that journalism is a public service that should leave the audience caring about the people involved. 

According to Barstow, students want to do solutions-oriented journalism and that “we’ve missed opportunities.” In journalism, we should “bring the same rigor to folks who are struggling to find answers.” In other words, what is missing is “writing about the people who are creating solutions.” 

This year’s recipients are:

Main Category

First Place 

“Buried Secrets” (Dan Mihalopoulos, Alex Keefe and Angela Rozas O’Toole, WBEZ Chicago)


“Improper Vaccinations at Loretto Hospital” (Kelly Bauer, Block Club Chicago)

Small Newsrooms Category

First Place

“Big Ag U” (Johnathan Hettinger and Sky Chadde, Investigate Midwest; Dana Cronin, Katie Peikes and Seth Bodine, Harvest Public Media)


“Illinois Has a Program to Compensate Victims of Violent Crimes. Few Applicants Receive Funds” (Lakeidra Chavis and Daniel Nass, The Trace, in partnership with The Chicago Sun-Times, Block Club Chicago, and La Raza Chicago.)

Reader’s Choice Award

“Improper Vaccinations at Loretto Hospital” (Kelly Bauer, Block Club Chicago)


“Gun Violence: A Community Conversation” (Jeff D’Alessio, The Champaign News-Gazette)

“‘Gang Contracts’ in Cicero and Berwyn Schools Raise Concerns About Criminalization of Youth” (Irene Romulo, Cicero Independiente)

“Drowning in Debt” (María Inés Zamudio, Alden Loury, Matt Kiefer, Mary Hall, Manuel Martinez, Kat Nagasawa and Charmaine Runes, WBEZ Chicago)

“GI Bill Snafus Widespread and Longstanding, Long-Secret Whistleblower Investigation Finds” (Stephanie Zimmerman, Chicago Sun-Times).

John W. Bateman has a secret addiction to glitter and, contrary to his southern roots, does NOT like sweet tea. He recently left his southern unicorn lumberjack shack and moved to Chicago to pursue an MFA in writing at SAIC.

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