Watchdog Award

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Sponsored by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the CHC each year awards a cash prize for enterprising journalism that defends and protects everyday folks. The prize for work completed in 2016 will be presented at the Chicago Headline Club’s Lisagor Awards banquet in May 2017.


The Watchdog Award honors Chicago area news reporting that calls attention to situations in which the public is being harmed or poorly served. Stories may involve public interest reporting at the local, state or national level. Stories may include coverage of the government, entities contracting with the government and public or private business.

The award is explicitly designed to encourage stories that stick up for the common person.

Subject matter should include outstanding reporting that highlights disparities in how the public is served or which highlights those public activities that disproportionately affect certain segments of the population.

Judges should consider reporting enterprise, barriers to obtaining the information, accuracy, clarity of analysis, writing style. Judges may consider civic impact and evaluate the circumstances prompting the coverage and results achieved.

The Watchdog Award is funded by a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and is administered by the Chicago Headline Club and the Chicago Headline Club Foundation.

Contest Rules:

Nominations must be e-mailed by January 13, 2016, to Watchdog Awards Chair Alejandra Cancino at

Reports must have been published, aired or posted between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016.

Entries must be the original work of journalists based in Illinois or who work for Illinois news media, or who work in Indiana’s Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties. Nominations may be made by the author or by any other person. Nominees need not be members of the Chicago Headline Club.

All nominations must meet standards set forth in the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics.

Entries should include all related corrections, clarifications or retractions.

Each entry must include a nomination form with the name of the entry, names of nominees, dates of publication or broadcast, and an inventory of attached materials; submission contact, title, address, phone number and e-mail address; and an attached letter stating the project’s goals, obstacles and results. Please list all staff members to be named on a team entry and include any others who should be acknowledged as contributors.

Only named nominees will be awarded a cash prize to be divided among named nominees. Up to three individuals may be named on a team entry; otherwise the nomination must be made in the name of newsroom staff.

The Chicago Headline Club and the Chicago Headline Club Foundation are not responsible for errors or omissions in the nomination materials.

The Chicago Headline Club will appoint a panel of judges to solicit and review nominations and select a slate of finalists. The final award will be approved by majority vote of the Chicago Headline Club Board of Directors.


Congratulations to our previous winners:


The 2015 Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting went to Jamie Kalven for “Sixteen Shots,” which he wrote for Slate. Kalven’s relentless work to get the autopsy report of Laquan McDonald uncovered how the black teenager was fatally shot 16 times by a white police officer, raising questions of excessive force and misconduct. Kalven kept on the story, pushing for the release of police video of the shooting, which eventually led to firing of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and to the officer being charged with murder. As one of the judges put it, “Jamie Kalven’s article ‘Sixteen Shots’ demonstrated investigative persistence that led to the truth in the death of Laquan McDonald.”


The 2014 Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting went to Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun-Times for their series, “A Little Justice for David.” David Koschman died in 2004 after a single punch by Richard “R.J.” Vanecko, the nephew of former longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, during a late-night drunken encounter. The Sun-Times’ dogged pursuit of the story prompted officials to re-open the case, ultimately leading to Vanecko’s conviction nearly 10 years after Koschman’s death.


The 2013 Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting went to Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago Sun-Times for “Clout in Session,” a series of stories on the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and its misuse of public funding. What made Mr. Mihalopoulos’ submission stand out among the 17 entries from a wide spectrum of media outlets was the relentless pressure of his coverage according to one of the judges. Mr. Mihalopoulos didn’t quit digging when UNO made cosmetic changes and spun a show of reform.


The 2012 Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting went to Christy Gutowski and Bill Ruthhart of the Chicago Tribune for their “Children at Risk” series. Their package of stories shined a light on new, treacherous risks to one of the must vulnerable populations and led to an overhaul of the state agency charged with protecting children.


Gary Marx and David Jackson of the Chicago Tribune where honored for work on “Fugitives from Justice” a series which documented failings in the U.S. justice system that allowed fugitives to flee the country and avoid capture.


Sam Roe and Jared S. Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune were honored for work on their “Deadly Neglect” series. This Tribune investigation, uncovered a pattern of harmful care at the Alden Village North, a home for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Thirteen times in the last decade residents have died under circumstances that led to state citations for neglect or failure to investigate.


Jodi Cohen, Stacy St. Clair and Tara Malone of the Chicago Tribune were honored for their work on “Clout Goes to College.” The series of investigations uncovered how some applicants to the University of Illinois received special consideration for acceptance between 2005 and 2009, despite having sub-par qualifications.


Dan Mihalopoulos, Robert Becker, Darnell Little, Todd Lighty and Laurie Cohen of the Chicago Tribune were honored for “Neighborhoods for Sale.” The series documented the correlation between millions of dollars in political contributions from developers and zoning changes granted by Chicago aldermen.