The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard has awarded the $20,000 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism to the Los Angeles Times for its six-part series “Billions to Spend.”

During an 18-month investigation, the newspaper found that a $5.7 billion program to rebuild nine community colleges in Los Angeles was plagued with serious problems including gross mismanagement, nepotism, shoddy construction and reckless spending that wasted tens of millions of dollars. The hard-hitting series has prompted a number of reforms.

Investigative reporter Walter Robinson, one of the Bingham Prize judges, noted: “ This work by the Times is a stark reminder of the importance of the watchdog role the press plays when government spends scarce public funds.”

The Worth Bingham Prize honors investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is being ill-served. Judges are guided by such factors as obstacles overcome in getting information, accuracy, clarity of analysis and writing style, magnitude of the situation, and impact on the public, including any reforms that may have resulted.

Worth Bingham, who died at the age of 34, achieved prominence as an investigative journalist and was vice president and assistant to the publisher for the Louisville Courier-Journal. His family and friends created the prize in his memory in 1967. He was a 1954 Harvard University graduate.

The Bingham Prize will be presented at the Nieman Foundation on April 19, 2012.

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