The News & Observer’s Joseph Neff, a veteran investigative reporter, has won a national journalism award for his work that led to the conviction of the former leader of the state employees’ association.
Neff was awarded the 2016 MOLLY National Journalism Prize on Thursday evening at a ceremony in Austin, Texas. The award honors the memory of Molly Ivins, the late syndicated columnist and former editor of the Texas Observer.
Neff’s reporting led to the indictment and guilty plea of Dana Cope, who resigned as director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina immediately after publication of the story in February 2015. The report exposed a phony invoice involving landscaping at Cope’s Raleigh home billed to SEANC and raised questions about Cope spending SEANC funds on flight lessons and other personal items.
Cope was sentenced in November to up to 82 months in prison.
One judge praised Neff for his “dogged account of one man’s greed and eventual, richly deserved downfall.”
Neff, 56, joined the N&O in 1992. He has written extensively on criminal justice and was part of a team whose reporting on nonprofit hospitals in 2012 won national awards from the American Society of News Editors and Sigma Delta Chi, as well as the grand prize in the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. That series was also a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
Honorable mentions in the MOLLY competition went to journalists from ProPublica, NPR and the New Yorker.