© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

KyCIR, LPM reporters recognized for months-long investigation

A piece of equipment sits in a soggy field of eastern Kentucky flood debris.
Justin Hicks
A piece of equipment sits in a soggy field of eastern Kentucky flood debris.

Louisville Public Media reporters spent months uncovering the dirty world of disaster clean-up that followed the devastating 2022 floods in eastern Kentucky.

This story was big from the beginning.

In July 2022, deadly flooding devastated portions of eastern Kentucky. In an instant, reporters from across the country homed in on the small, mountain communities that dot the area to survey the damage, hear from people that survived and tell the stories of those who didn’t.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting’s Jared Bennett and Louisville Public Media’s Justin Hicks took a different tack and did what good reporters have done for generations — they followed the money.

Bennett and Hicks knew the clean-up would be a big, costly job. And when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the work would be led by the nation’s biggest disaster relief company, the two reporters got to work collecting public records, finding sources and piecing together a saga that, now, serves as a framework for the type of important, investigative storytelling that can be replicated in communities across the country when disaster strikes.

They uncovered how the company hired to do the work, Ashbritt Inc., inflated their spending, did subpar work, paid-off workers and politicians and violated people’s rights along the way. In the end, they produced an hour-long documentary.

Two esteemed journalism organizations honored that work with awards. Hicks and Bennett’s reporting won the prestigious Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize and the Investigative Reporters and Editors award for audio in small markets.

KyCIR Reporter Jared Bennett interviews eastern Kentucky resident Justin Branham after the July 2022 floods.
Justin Hicks
KyCIR Reporter Jared Bennett interviews eastern Kentucky resident Justin Branham after the July 2022 floods.

The Schorr prize is named for the late NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr and salutes public radio reporters 35 and younger with an award of $5,000.

The judges said the story is a “testament to solid investigative reporting.”

“As listeners, we were struck by the richness of the residents who told their stories of grief and loss. Jared and Justin’s team combined these voices with appropriate music mixed to deliver first-hand experiences to the audience,” said judges NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid and “Here and Now” co-host Scott Tong.

The Investigative Reporters and Editors awards honor the best investigative journalism from across the country each year. The judges praised the reporters for tackling an important topic.

“How eastern Kentucky — one of the poorest regions in a state with a high overall poverty level — dealt with the cleanup of a devastating rainstorm and flood. Reporters tracked down leads about problems with debris cleanup contractors, including families that had their home demolished without their permission,” the judges said.

Bennett said the story stemmed from a desire to find some answers for people in eastern Kentucky.

“We were amplifying issues and solutions that locals were bringing forward, people in the area who knew something was going wrong and had the expertise to explain it,” he said.

Hicks said the aftermath of a disaster can be chaotic, and it can be difficult to keep track of all the public money that gets spent.

“Once we started hearing complaints about debris contractors either taking too much or not enough, we decided this would be one way to examine just one small piece of where this money goes and the kinds of people that are profiting from it,” he said.

In 2015, former LPM reporter Devin Katayama was awarded a Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize for an hour-long documentary about the fragile prospects for children in Louisville that live amid poverty, drug use, depression, anger and dysfunction — and the local and state officials who struggle to help them find pathways to achievement through a labyrinth of support systems.

KyCIR reporters have also nabbed Investigative Reporters and Editors awards for work related to elected jailers, lying politicians, a police department’s unmet promises and that one time the University of Louisville Foundation bought an empty factory in Oklahoma at a donor’s behest.

This track record of insightful, impactful journalism is only possible because of support from members. Becoming a member is easy. And the benefit of doing so is far-reaching. Here’s how you can support our work.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.