The Lens has won a prestigious National Edward R. Murrow Award for its reporting on one homeowner’s ultimately unsuccessful six-year struggle to get back into her Katrina-damaged house.

The story and related audio piece were reported in partnership with Bob Butler, a fellow with the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism based in San Francisco.

The award was announced this morning by the Radio Television Digital News Association. The work took top honors in the Online News Operation Audio Investigative Reporting category. Our reporting partners at FOX8 TV won two National Murrow Awards.

The awarding organization is a national association of radio and television broadcast outlets that recognize excellence in digital journalism, including online work.

The awards were first given in 1971, and they are given annually in about 70 categories. The national awards are drawn from the 13 regional award winners.

Our audio investigative report looked at the plight of Kisa Holmes, a New Orleans homeowner who was convinced by her bank to use her Katrina insurance money to pay off her mortgage, which left her the owner of a house she could not afford to renovate.

Jessica Williams

The reporting by The Lens was done by New Orleans native Jessica Williams, a graduate of Loyola University’s School of Mass Communications. She said the story resonated with many in the city.

“New Orleanians have all have dealt with, or know someone who’s dealt with, the confusing bureaucracy that was Road Home, that was FEMA. Some of us got lost in the process, and we couldn’t get back in our homes for months, for years after we were supposed to have gotten back,” she said. “Kisa’s story, though it had unique struggles, was a reflection of that, as well as a reflection of our determination. Despite many obstacles, Kisa kept trying. So did New Orleans.”

Managing Editor Steve Beatty said The Lens is humbled by the national award.

“More importantly, we’re honored that Kisa Holmes trusted us to tell her story,” he said. “This award is a testament to the investigative work we do and to our willingness to take on these kinds of projects, which educate our community and create a record for a national audience.”

Butler initiated the project and worked on it between other reporting assignments for two years before The Lens joined the effort. He wrote the story with Williams and produced the audio version.

Bob Butler

“This story was not being covered in great detail in New Orleans,” he said. “The banks convinced people to pay off their mortgage – keeping the bank whole but leaving people with a piece of property they couldn’t afford to fix.”

The award is strong recognition of the importance of innovative partnerships and collaborations in investigative journalism, said Linda Jue, the director and  editor at the G.W. Williams Center.

Both the G.W. Williams Center and The Lens are members of the Investigative News Network, a collective of more than 60 non-profit newsrooms across the country.

“The whole nature of the new-media world is about collaboration,” Jue said. “Non-profit centers like ours are struggling in an anemic funding environment to go after these stories. It’s a story everybody in town knew about, but you couldn’t read about this in the newspaper.”

Funding for this story came from the Ford Foundation and 21st Century Foundation, supporters of the G. W. Williams Center. The Lens is financed through a variety of foundations and private donations and is a project of the Washington, D.C.- based nonprofit newsroom The Center for Public Integrity.  Additional funding for this story was provided by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

FOX8 news won a National Murrow Award in the continuing coverage category for Lee Zurik’s “Hiding Behind the Badge” investigation into former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle and businessman Aaron Bennett. Both pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges after the nearly yearlong investigation. Zurik’s “Swiped” investigation, which focused on government credit card abuse, won in the news series category.