Nieman Fellows in the class of 2019 at Harvard University have selected Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter at The Indianapolis Star, for the 2019 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
Kwiatkowski was chosen for her years of work exposing shortfalls in systems designed to protect children—in day care settings and in mental health services—as well as her contributions to the team that reported exhaustively about the sexual abuse charges brought against Larry Nassar, formerly the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a physician at Michigan State University.
In selecting her for the award, Nieman Fellows in the class of 2019 said: “Marisa Kwiatkowski’s relentless efforts to give voice to the afflicted through her reporting inspire us all. She has committed her career to initiating change for the vulnerable by shining a light on how governments and the powerful conduct themselves. Never was her reporting more important than when she discovered information that led a team of investigative reporters at The Indianapolis Star to uncover the extensive sexual abuses of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor.”
In 2016, Kwiatkowskiand her colleagues launched an investigation into USA Gymnastics that revealed top officials at the sport’s national governing body failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches. It also showed how predators exploited a lax culture to prey on children. As a result of the series, about 500 women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Larry Nassar, a longtime team physician who worked in four Olympic games.
The reporters began their work more than a year before the national #MeToo movement gained momentum. That reporting had a tremendous impact on the national narrative around sexual abuse and harassment and their stories yielded powerful results:
- The Star’s reporting exposed Nassar as a potential serial abuser and set the stage for his prosecution and conviction on multiple charges. He was sentenced to 175 years in prison in January 2018 after pleading guilty to sexually abusing seven girls.
- The Star reports exposed how powerful officials both at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University as far back as 1997 fielded complaints about Nassar, but did nothing. In some cases, they minimized the abuses and discouraged further action.
- The Star investigation led to the resignation of USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny and the group’s entire board of directors, as well as the eventual resignation of President Lou Anna Simonat Michigan State University, where Nassar worked and practiced. Simon also was charged with lying to police.
- William Strampel, dean of MSU’s Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar’s boss, was arrested and charged with a number of crimes, including neglect of duty for disclosing to Nassar details of a Title IX investigation into his behavior.
- A $500 million settlement was reached between Michigan State University and survivors of Nassar’s abuse.
- Changes were made in federal and state laws that strengthened requirements for organizations such as USA Gymnastics to report suspected abuses to authorities.
- The unsealing of court records revealed how USA Gymnastics had hidden allegations of sexual abuse by coaches and others in a file drawer—to be kept secret forever.
- The launch of internal investigation at USA Gymnastics, led by a former federal prosecutor, resulted in a variety of proposed reforms to prevent this kind of scandal from happening again.
- Major USA Gymnastics sponsors withdrew their support.
Kwiatkowski has worked as an investigative reporter for The Indianapolis Star since 2013. She handles investigations relating to social services and welfare issues, including child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services. Kwiatkowskihas earned more than 50 journalism awards, including IRE’s Tom Renner Award, a Sigma Delta Chi Award in public service, the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award and Indiana Journalist of the Year. Prior to the Star, she worked for media outlets in northwestern Indiana, South Carolina and Michigan.
The Lyons Award will be presented to Kwiatkowski in February at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation in Cambridge, Mass. She was selected for the Louis M. Lyons Award by the 27 members of the Nieman class of 2019, which includes journalists from around the globe.
The Nieman class of 1964 established the Louis M. Lyons Award in honor of the Nieman Foundation curator who retired that year after leading the institution for a quarter of a century. Lyons was a forceful advocate for freedom of the press. While he was curator of the Nieman Foundation, he broke new ground by diversifying the class of fellows to include women, minorities and international fellows. The award honors displays of conscience and integrity by individuals, groups or institutions in communications.
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism and elevates the standards of the profession through special programs that convene scholars and experts in all fields. More than 1,600 journalists from 97 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a website and print magazine that covers thought leadership in journalism, Nieman Lab, a website that reports on the future of news, innovation and best practices in the digital media age and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling.