Inside Public Integrity

Published — April 8, 2020

Two Center for Public Integrity projects win National Headliner Award honors

Immigration and governmental reporting cited among nation’s best


Two Center for Public Integrity reporting projects — one investigating Trump administration immigration policies, the other revealing how lobbyists systematically replicated favorable legislation across state houses — have been honored by the National Headliner Awards.

Immigration Decoded,” led by Public Integrity senior reporter Susan Ferriss with contributions from reporting fellows Madeline Buiano and Alex Ellerbeck, won second place in the best blog category. 

“Immigration Decoded” brought readers “facts, faces and context behind U.S. immigration policy” amid rampant misinformation and hyperbole. Notable stories described the plight of American citizens with undocumented spouses, the peril of sick babies held in federal custody and how U.S. officials may be sending danger-fleeing migrants to their deaths.

Copy, Paste, Legislate” — a yearlong reporting partnership involving Public Integrity, USA TODAY and the Arizona Republic — received third-place honors in the category of newspaper investigative reporting in a top 20 media market.

The “Copy, Paste, Legislate” series exposed how state legislators frequently proposed cookie-cutter bills shopped to them by corporations, special interest groups and lobbyists. These bills enabled the resale of defective cars, weakened smoking restrictions and aimed to enshrine hundreds of other political goals into state law. In all, this “copycat legislation” machine constitutes one of the most notable special-interest influence campaigns in America despite most people — even some lawmakers — being unaware of it. 

Reporting for this series required extensive reporting by three news organizations as well as the creation of specialized data tracking tools. Public Integrity and the Arizona Republic built two trackers that use algorithms to detect similarities in language for these copy-and-paste bills. The efforts found more than 10,000 introduced from 2010 to 2018 — but the real numbers are probably higher.

“Our reporting seeks to expose injustice and hold the powerful accountable for actions that betray the public interest,” Public Integrity Executive Editor Jim Morris said. “We’re honored to receive these awards.”

Founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City, the National Headliner Awards is one of the nation’s oldest journalism competitions.

Last week, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awarded two Public Integrity projects honorable mentions in its annual “Best in Business” contest: “Copy, Paste, Legislate” for government reporting and “Pushing Plastic” for energy and natural resources reporting. 

Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications last week also named “Copy, Paste, Legislate” a finalist for its Toner Prize in national political reporting.  

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