Investigative Fund projects took home several prestigious journalism awards this spring, including two National Magazine Awards and a George Polk Award.
In “The Real Death Valley,” John Carlos Frey captures the intense desperation experienced by dying migrants and their companions through the story of two brothers from El Salvador. Over the past five years the remains of more than 400 migrants have been recovered in rural Brooks County, Texas, yet no news organization had deeply investigated why. Frey reveals that Border Patrol’s failure to respond to migrant distress calls was a key factor in the growing death count. The investigation led to a dramatically expanded search-and-rescue team in Texas, faster 911 response times, and a 30 percent drop in migrant deaths in the area.
The investigation, produced in partnership with The Weather Channel, Telemundo, The Weather Channel and The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, now known as Type Investigations, and Efran Films, won an Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) medal, the George Polk Award for Television Reporting, and a Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award. “The Real Death Valley,” came on the heels of a separate border investigation by Frey, which earned The Investigative Fund its first Emmy in 2014.
Melissa del Bosque, for “Beyond the Border,” and Jeff Sharlet, for “Inside the Iron Closet,” each won a National Magazine Award.
Del Bosque’s four-part series, published with the Texas Observer and the Guardian, also documents heartbreaking migrant journeys — and deaths — in Brooks County. She examines how residents and the immigrant families who have lost loved ones there deal with the emotional trauma of so much death and loss year after year in a rural American county. Throughout her series we meet a family whose daughter disappeared in Brooks County, as well as conservative landowners who fear smugglers crossing their land but feel compassion for the immigrants in dire need of help. She profiles the county’s overwhelmed sheriff’s department and a former Guatemalan consul charged with repatriating the dead bodies and informing families that their loved ones have perished. The series, which included cutting-edge interactive graphics, won in the Multimedia category.
Sharlet’s investigation, published in GQ, won in the Reporting category for a stunning portrayal of what it’s like for gay men and lesbians to face a government crackdown in Russia and violence from anti-gay vigilante groups. Sharlet made his way deep into the lives of ordinary queer Russians and gained remarkable access to the LGBT community’s newly empowered oppressors. Weaving characters’ stories with deep reporting, Sharlet shows readers how quickly an industrialized country can turn its back on a huge swath of people, and how global LGBT rights are not, as we might wish, on an inexorable march forward.