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The Lens takes home three first-place awards from Press Club of New Orleans

The Lens received three first-place awards from the Press Club of New Orleans on Saturday night and swept the print investigative category.

Charles Maldonado won the top prize for investigative stories for exposing local prosecutors’ use of fake subpoenas to pressure victims and witnesses to talk. (That work has been honored by Innocence Project New Orleans and Investigative Reporters and Editors.)

He got a first-place prize for general news reporting for an examination of how Airbnb is reshaping New Orleans neighborhoods, which we did in partnership with HuffPost.

And he won first place in the governmental/political category for reporting that the city of New Orleans installed more traffic cameras without any data about whether they made roads safer.

Each of those stories has made a difference in New Orleans.

The Orleans Parish DA’s office announced it would stop sending fake subpoenas the day we published our first story. Two other DAs, whose prosecutors had used similar notices, quickly followed suit. Complaints have been filed with the state agency that oversees attorney discipline and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, and a federal lawsuit alleges the practice violated people’s civil rights.

Our Airbnb story has informed debate about whether the city should change its short-term rental law. Lens staffers have spoken at community meetings to discuss our findings.

And while Maldonado was working on the traffic camera story, the city embarked on a study that eventually concluded traffic cameras reduce crashes at those intersections.

In the investigative category, freelancer Samantha Sunne won second place for her story, “Louisiana DAs offer motorists a deal: Write us a check and we’ll dismiss your speeding ticket.” That story reported that DAs had created “traffic diversion” programs that allow them to pocket fees rather than share them with other agencies. Public defenders, which rely on revenue from tickets that go to court, said those programs were squeezing their budgets.

Last week, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report that confirmed those findings in one parish. It found that the DeSoto Parish DA’s office had cost the local criminal justice system $1 million in revenue in diverting so many tickets.

Lens reporter Marta Jewson won third place in that category for revealing that school district officials dropped their plans to test school drinking water for lead after the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans raised questions about the testing. The water was never tested, and filters still haven’t been installed.

Other Lens stories were recognized as well:

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About Steve Myers

Steve Myers is editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter, he wrote about emerging media practices such as citizen journalism, nonprofit news sites, real-time reporting via social media, data-oriented news apps, iPhoneography, and the fact-checking movement. Six of his 10 years in newspapers were spent as a local government reporter in Mobile, Ala., where he focused on local government accountability, from jail management to hurricane preparation and response. He can be reached at (504) 298-9750.