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Newsday wins George Polk Award for Long Island Divided

We sent people undercover to house hunt. They thought agents treated them well. Then we showed them the hidden camera footage and listings.

Newsday has won a George Polk Award for its series Long Island Divided.

Newsday's staff won the award in the Metropolitan Reporting category, according to the announcement made at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. The series, three years in the making, "exposed an endemic pattern of discrimination by suburban Realtors, steering homebuyers of color away from white enclaves in violation of federal and state law. It drew promises of action from officials at every level of government," organizers said.

Newsday sent testers carrying hidden cameras and microphones to meet with real estate agents and record the meetings. The findings included evidence suggesting potential homebuyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that some agents treated white and minority buyers differently, such as requiring mortgage preapproval from black customers but not white ones.

"Newsday is committed to deep investigative journalism that sheds light on important issues on Long Island," said Newsday publisher Debby Krenek. "Congrats to the entire team on this prestigious award."

"This award from our peers recognizes the importance of investigative journalism on issues of significance to our community and our team's extraordinary work and commitment to this story," said editor Deborah Henley.

The probe has sparked promises of investigations by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and the State Legislature. 

In November, State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon) introduced a bill that would expand the state’s authority to suspend or revoke a real estate agent’s license.

This month, two state legislators proposed a measure to increase the amount of training real estate brokers must take to prevent discrimination. The bill would mandate licensees to take six hours of training, including “courses on the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, (and) the historic lack of access to housing opportunity experienced by disadvantaged groups.”

Also this month, Suffolk County officials announced they are seeking to hire anti-bias investigators and trainers as part of an effort to fight housing discrimination.

The National Association of Realtors cited the Newsday investigation last month in announcing the group's sweeping changes in its approach to housing discrimination, including plans to review state real estate licensing laws, create a voluntary fair-housing testing program for brokerages and offer new anti-bias training.

Also citing the Newsday investigation, Long Island and state real estate industry groups said in November that they had suspended their fair housing training programs and said they are seeking out independent groups to offer new anti-bias instruction.

New York's Department of State said it will step up its monitoring of industry training programs as well. 

“Long Island Divided was an ambitious, challenging and very important work of journalism that relied on solid evidence to document what turned out to be evidence of widespread discrimination of minorities in house-hunting on Long Island,” said project editor Arthur Browne. “The Polk Award is a very gratifying recognition of the quality and importance of its conclusions, and the spotlight it’s shown on a hidden phenomenon on Long Island.”

The George Polk Awards in Journalism are among the most prestigious in the business, having been granted for over 70 years. Past winners include journalism greats such as Walter Cronkite, Christiane Amanpour, and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They are awarded by Long Island University.

The honor marks the 13th time Newsday has won a Polk Award.

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