Two Hatch-Affiliated Journalists Win IRE Awards

Published September 10, 2021 | 5 min read

Two veteran journalists tied to The Hatch Institute recently won an IRE Award, which recognize outstanding investigative work and help identify the techniques and resources used to complete each story.

Brendan Keefe, who sits on our Board of Advisors, won for his work on “The Drug Whisperer.” The investigation exposed a shocking practice by a suburban police department in the Atlanta area, in which an officer was “trained” to detect marijuana usage solely by giving drivers an eyeball test. Video showed the officer accusing drivers, often women, of drug abuse and arresting them. After months of legal troubles, each driver in the televised arrests was cleared of any drug use through chemical testing.

Of his work, IRE said: “The stories provoked rage at seeing people arrested and humiliated for no reason,” and called it “journalism of the highest quality.”

“A quarter century ago, a colleague first told me about Investigative Reporters & Editors. I’ve been a member for years, and always looked up to the giants of our craft. ,” said Keefe in a Facebook post. “Thank you, IRE, for supporting investigative storytelling that makes a difference.”

Les Zaitz, who is a part of our mentorship program, won the FOI award for “Deadly Decisions.”

Of the work, the IRE judges said: “This is a classic David-meets-Goliath triumph. The small staff at this weekly newspaper in Oregon won a public records battle with the state agency that sued the newspaper to block release of documents. The newspaper launched a GoFundMe drive to raise money for a lawyer to defend the journalist. In the end, the documents were released after the governor stepped in. The paper’s tenacity led a public affirmation of the state’s commitment to openness. This work is proof that you don’t need a large staff and deep resources to move the needle on open records.”

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