National Geographic Wins Polk Award for Journalism

James Verini’s feature on conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is among this year’s winners of the prestigious prize.
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Congolese commandos celebrate as they advance up a mountainous road toward Bunagana, the last remaining stronghold of M23 rebels, in this October 2013 image that ran with Verini's story.

A special National Geographic online story about conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is among the winners of this year's George Polk awards, among the most prestigious in journalism.

James Verini's 2014 article "Should the United Nations Wage War to Keep Peace?" earned the 66th annual George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting on Sunday, when the prizes were announced by Long Island University in New York, which administers the awards.

The judges called Verini's work "a riveting and lavishly illustrated 11,000-word narrative."

"Verini spent a year exploring the seeming futility of the [United Nations'] intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a sprawling nation wracked by decades of civil war," the judges added. "He examined the implications of the U.N.'s decision to finally wage war against one of the largest and deadliest of the Congo's rebel combatants, the M23 Militia."

Started in 1949 by Long Island University in memory of George Polk, a CBS correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war, the Polk Awards recognize investigative and enterprising reporting "that gains attention and achieves results."

Rania Abouzeid received the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting for "The Jihad Next Door," an account of the rise of the Islamic State that was published online by Politico Magazine. An Australian-Lebanese journalist, Abouzeid gained access to Jihadist fighters and documented how they rose to power out of the conflict in Syria. (Read Abouzeid's piece on Irazi Christians for National Geographic.)

National Geographic contributing writer Craig Welch was part of a team at the Seattle Times that won the Polk Award for Environmental Reporting. Welch and his colleagues, the judges said, unearthed "compelling evidence that the 43 deaths linked to a mudslide in rural Oso, Washington, were the result of corners cut, safeguards disregarded, and warnings ignored by lax state regulators at the behest of logging companies." (Read Welch's recent piece on seabird deaths.)

Other winners this year included Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times, who won for international reporting by exposing how European countries have been secretly paying hostage ransoms to the Islamic State; a team from the Times that was recognized for its health coverage of Africa's Ebola epidemic; Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, who won for national reporting by probing problems at the Secret Service; and a team from the Times and the Miami Herald, which was recognized for justice reporting for covering brutality at correctional facilities.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic won the award for commentary for his essay "The Case for Reparations," and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau won the career award.

"This year's winners are true heroes who risked their lives uncovering the truth behind some of 2014's most incredible stories," said Kimberly R. Cline, president of Long Island University. "We salute their courage and determination."

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