2020 Watchdog Award winner: ‘Left In the Dark’ by WBBM

The winner of the Chicago Headline Club’s 2020 Watchdog Award is “Left In the Dark,” by Samah Assad, Christopher Hacker and Dave Savini at WBBM CBS 2.

How the team at WBBM described the project:

The CBS 2 investigative team had been reporting about the issue of wrongful police raids by the Chicago Police Department for over a year when it learned body camera video from many botched search warrants was missing.

As the reporters began to uncover and document officers failing to turn on their body cameras during wrong raids, they wondered how often this happened – not just during search warrants, but in everyday incidents with civilians. Incidents where police abuse had been alleged, but there was no video evidence to prove it.

“Left in the Dark,” a 10,000-word investigative report, seeks to answer those questions. Through interactive storytelling, it also aims to amplify the voices of Black and brown Chicagoans – voices of those who feel they have been silenced by the police and further traumatized by an initiative that was supposed to help them. Those who were told that body cameras would serve as another set of eyes on the street, and remove the “he said, she said” narrative often used to dismiss complaints made against CPD officers.

What the judges said

“Exhaustive reporting and excellent multimedia presentation mark this stunning project that reveals police willfully – and with little consequence – failing to activate their required body cameras in tens of thousands of citizen encounters. The deep research and fight for accountability, including a months-long FOIA battle for internal audits, expose a powerful set of institutions flouting their responsibility to the public they serve. This project truly reflects the spirt of the Watchdog awards.”

“The impact of this work will be felt by hundreds and hundreds of Chicagoans seeking justice in the cases of police misconduct.”

The CBS 2 team will share the $2,500 prize provided by the Driehaus Foundation as part of the Watchdog Award.


“Grace: Failures in Michigan’s juvenile justice system.” Jodi S. Cohen and Duaa Eldeib, Pro Publica Illinois

Investigation into a 15-year-old’s journey into a juvenile detention center at the start of the pandemic for missing online school.

What the judges said:

“Outstanding reporting that brought attention to problems of people being adversely being affected by the pandemic in ways indirect to the disease.”

“COVID Inequities” by Pro Publica Illinois Staff

A collection of stories at the start of the pandemic that, in many cases, broke news but at the same time provided sophisticated analysis, deeper context and concrete accountability to the events unfolding around us.

What the judges said

“Taken together, the reports are an outstanding example of investigative journalism that highlights critical disparities in how the public is served.”