ICN’s Exxon Series Honored With Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism

Judges laud work detailing oil giant's history of climate research and obfuscation as "nothing short of stunning."

Exxon: The Road Not Taken

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The series Exxon: The Road Not Taken was honored with the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, the Columbia School of Journalism announced on Wednesday.

The investigation, detailing Exxon’s four decades of climate research and subsequent efforts to cast doubt on the science of climate change, has won numerous journalism awards, including being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service. It was written by Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer and Lisa Song, and was a collaborative effort of the entire ICN staff.

The Oakes award is given annually for “news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public’s understanding of environmental issues.” It was founded in 1993 in honor of Oakes, a pioineer in environmental journalism and an editorial writer for The New York Times who died in 2001.

John Bertram Oakes
John Bertram Oakes. Credit: Wikimedia

“We are honored to receive this prestigious award and follow in the footsteps of one of the pioneers of environmental journalism,” said David Sassoon, publisher and founder of ICN. “It’s a beat that needs to grow and thrive in this century like never before.”

The Oakes award judges lauded ICN’s work as revelatory and comprehensive: “The revelation by InsideClimate News was nothing short of stunning: Scientists working for oil giant Exxon had, in the 1980s, established that continued use of fossil fuels would have ‘catastrophic’ effects on the Earth’s climate. Rather than sharing this knowledge, however, Exxon deliberately and strategically covered it up for decades. In sophisticated reporting that reflects a clear understanding of both the scientific and business issues, this profoundly important work by ICN along with several other investigations has led to ongoing litigation against Exxon. This journalism reflects the highest standards of excellence represented by the John B. Oakes Award.”

The judges also chose as finalists: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post, the Investigative Fund, the Food & Environment Reporting Network and other media partners for “Evicted and Abandoned: The World Bank’s Broken Promise to the Poor.” Climate Central was a finalist for “Pulp Fiction.”

ICN was a finalist for the Oakes award last year for the series Big Oil, Bad Air and in 2013 for The Dilbit Disaster

The panel of judges is chaired by David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University. It also includes Jim Detjen, director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism; Marguerite Holloway, director of Science and Environmental Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School; Elizabeth Kolbert, award-winning writer for the New Yorker; Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental activist group 350.org; and John G.H. Oakes, son of John B. Oakes.

The award will be presented and finalists honored at a presentation on Sept. 28 at Columbia Journalism School by Dean Steve Coll.