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Boston Globe series on drunk driving wins Polk Award

Globe Staff / February 20, 2012
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The Boston Globe Spotlight Team has won a George Polk Award, one of US journalism’s top honors, for its investigative series showing that a vast majority of alleged drunk drivers in Massachusetts are found not guilty at trials decided by state judges instead of juries.

Recipients of the Polk Award for legal reporting are Spotlight Team reporters Marcella Bombardieri and Jonathan Saltzman, Spotlight editor Thomas Farragher, as well as Matt Carroll of the Globe staff and Darren Durlach, a senior multimedia producer at the Globe.

“All our judges agreed that your work was extraordinarily reported and written and carried a major impact on a serious problem,’’ said John Darnton, curator of the Polk Awards.

Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, will receive a Polk Award posthumously for extraordinary valor for his work in the Middle East. Shadid, who formerly worked for the Globe and was twice awarded a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting while on the staff of The Washington Post, died Thursday in Syria while on assignment for the Times.

Among other winners this year is Sara Ganim of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., who reported that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had been accused of sexually abusing children, and about the subsequent institutional cover-up.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opened a formal inquiry into the excessive acquittal rates the day after the Globe published its first story in October. The Spotlight report showed that district court judges were acquitting accused drunk drivers at a rate of more than 80 percent -- about 30 percentage points higher than that of juries. Specialists have said that degree of leniency is virtually unsurpassed in the United States.

“The Spotlight Team’s penetrating examination of the court system was in the great tradition of investigative journalism at the Globe, and we’re very gratified that it is being recognized with one of our profession’s most prestigious awards,’’ Globe editor Martin Baron said.

The SJC’s inquiry into the drunken driving acquittal rates is ongoing.

The awards are named for the CBS correspondent, George W. Polk, who was killed in 1948 while covering the civil war in Greece. Established in 1949, they are administered by Long Island University, which made the announcement yesterday.

They will be awarded at an April 5 luncheon in Manhattan.

Among the other winners this year are Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of The Texas Observer, who will receive the career award, and Al Jazeera English, which will receive the television documentary award.

The magazine reporting award will be given to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, and the award for military reporting will go to C.J. Chivers of The New York Times. Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman and photographer Tyler Hicks will receive the award for foreign reporting.

The local reporting award will be presented to A.M. Sheehan and Matt Hongoltz-Hetling of the Advertiser Democrat for their report on low-income housing in Norway, Maine.

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