TOPIC: Prize for Preventive Journalism


The 2008 Prize for Preventive Journalism was awarded September 30 to Michael Grunwald of TIME Magazine for his August 2007 cover story "Why New Orleans Still Isn’t Safe."  The story delves into the immense danger facing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the persistent pattern of mistakes by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in devising ways to handle hurricane-generated floods in Louisiana’s largest city.  Grunwald’s searching look at post-Katrina New Orleans in the balance was selected by judges Charles Peters, Bill Kovach, and Katherine Boo from among ten finalists whose work exemplifies the best in American journalism.  In his acceptance speech, Grunwald shocked and delighted the gathering of journalists, editors, and open government activists by announcing he would donate the entire $50,000 prize to a charitable cause in New Orleans.   Understanding Government congratulates Mike on his outstanding journalistic achievements and celebrates his generosity upon winning one of journalism’s largest prizes.

Read the press release ( PDF 16KB).

2008 Preventive Journalism Prize Finalists

The following ten entries for the $50,000 Prize for Preventive Journalism were selected by the judges, Charles Peters, Bill Kovach, and Katherine Boo, as finalists for the 2008 prize.

Our thanks to Derek Kravitz of the Washington Post

Understanding Government gratefully acknowledges the Washington, D.C. office of Google and the Sunlight Foundation for their sponsorship of the award ceremony for the prize on September 30, 2008.

Our thanks to HorizonsISG (Cleveland, Ohio) for their generous support and to Carolyn Wasylczuk of Just Paper and Tea (Washington, D.C.) for her kind assistance with invitations.

Please click here for more on Preventive Journalism.


Please note that the deadline for submitting articles for the $50,000 Prize for Preventive Journalism is July 15, 2008.  We had originally listed a deadline of June 30, but since we also have specified that items published up to June 30 are eligible, we realized that some publications might need more time to prepare the actual applications.  For detailed information on the prize, please click here.  If you have any questions, please call our offices at (202) 783-2439.


As we mourn the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the question begs:  How could we have averted this tragic folly?  As a journalist, I have naturally thought about what our profession could have done.  It seems clear to me that an enterprising reporter could have discovered  that the (alleged) evidence of WMD was manufactured, out of date, or relied on extremely dubious sources like the aptly named "Curveball."

I ask myself why we seem to find out what’s wrong only when a disaster has happened.  After the coal mine explodes, we learn that proper safety procedures weren’t being followed.  And only after a Hurricane Katrina do we learn how unprepared we were for a natural disaster.  To encourage the media to find out in time instead of too late, Understanding Government is offering a $50,000 award for preventive journalism, for the best article that identifies inept leaders, misguided policies, and bureaucratic bungling in time to prevent another disaster.

– Charles Peters

Nominations are accepted through June 30, 2008.  For more information, please click here.

UG accepting Preventive Journalism Prize submissions

Understanding Government is accepting submissions for the $50,000 Prize for Preventive Journalism.  Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2008. 

Understanding Government, the non-profit established by Washington Monthly founder Charles Peters, is offering a $50,000 prize to be awarded for the first time in 2008, called the Prize for Preventive Journalism.  The goal of the prize is to encourage writers and editors to inform the public about serious problems before they become crises, reporting on potential breakdowns and disasters before they cause loss of life, environmental damage, or major social disruption. 

The travesty that was the response to Hurricane Katrina, the faulty intelligence on WMD in Iraq, and the weak regulations that contributed to the subprime lending crisis all could have been corrected or halted with the help of preventive journalism.  Thus, preventive journalism is investigative reporting and writing that analyzes wrong-headed policies, incompetent leaders, weak enforcement, and bureaucratic foul ups before they end in disaster.  It includes discussion of potential solutions, including the role of government.

See application rules and forms here.  For more about preventive journalism, read here.

Charles Peters on the Prize for Preventive Journalism

Charles Peters on the Prize for Preventive Journalism

(originally published 7/18/07 on Poynter Online)

What is preventive journalism, and why is the foundation I head, Understanding Government, offering a prize of $50,000 for the best example of it published in the next year?   We define preventive journalism as reporting that identifies inept leaders, wrong-headed policies and bureaucratic bungling before they lead to disasters like the bad intelligence about WMDs and the travesty that was the response to Katrina.

I now realize that I must have had my first glimmer of the need for preventive journalism as a young West Virginian who would hear of a mine disaster, then read heartbreaking stories of weeping widows and indignant editorials demanding effective safety regulations. But in the years that followed, no reporter went down into the mines to see if they were safer. We only found out they were not after the next disaster when a new round of heartbreaking articles and indignant editorials would appear.

It is to stop such cycles of tragic futility that Understanding Government is giving the Prize for Preventive Journalism — and offering enough money to wake reporters and editors up to the crucial importance of finding out what’s wrong in time to keep bad things from happening.


Preventive Journalism Award Press Release

April 2, 2007 — For Immediate Release

Understanding Government announces $50,000 Prize for Preventive Journalism

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 2, 2007

Understanding Government today announced the Prize for Preventive Journalism, a $50,000 award to be given for the best article published in a magazine or newspaper about how government deals with a significant public problem.

The new prize is part of the Washington, D.C. foundation’s mission to foster better government performance through better journalism on the work of government. “Our goal is preventive journalism,” said Understanding Government founder and president Charles Peters. “We are looking for articles that identify inept leaders, misguided policies, and bureaucratic bungling before they lead to disasters like the bad pre-war intelligence about WMD and the travesty that was the response to Katrina.”

The foundation will begin accepting entries on July 1, 2007 for a one-year period and will award the $50,000 cash prize in September 2008. The amount of the prize is larger than for most journalism awards. Peters explains: “It’s been hard to get reporters to look at mine safety until after the widows are weeping. The large award is designed to wake journalists up to the need to do this kind of reporting before it’s too late.”

Published articles submitted for the prize can cover federal, state, or local government, or a combination of these. In addition to describing the issue and government’s response, entries must include proposals for how government can more effectively address a given problem.

Understanding Government is a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving government effectiveness by increasing public understanding of how government works. Founded in 1999, the organization supports journalism that reports on government and tracks government programs that have been especially effective or ineffective on its website,

The Board of Directors of Understanding Government is composed of: Charles Peters, founding editor of The Washington Monthly; Matthew Cooper, Washington editor of Portfolio magazine; James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly; James Gibney, Deputy Managing Editor, The Atlantic Monthly; Phil Keisling, Senior Vice President, CorSource Technology Group and former Oregon Secretary of State; Matthew Miller, Senior Advisor, McKinsey & Co. and Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation; Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland; and Steve Waldman, editor-in-chief of

For further information, contact Edward Hodgman, executive director of Understanding Government, at ehodgman [-at-], by telephone at (202) 783-2439, or at 1319 F St., NW, Suite 810, Washington, D.C. 20004.   Nominations for the Preventive Journalism prize should be articles published between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008 and applications must be postmarked by July 15, 2008.

Nominations for Preventive Journalism Prize

We are looking for the best in preventive journalism from around the country. If you have read an outstanding article that captures a significant problem America that government and the public must confront at an early stage, please tell us. We will contact the author to suggest that he or she compete for the Prize for Preventive Journalism.  If you are a journalist interested in applying, learn more about the prize here.  If you would like to nominate someone, please fill out the form below.

If you have any questions, please write us at info AT