Ian Urbina Investigative Reporter, The New York Times
Ian Urbina is an investigative reporter for The New York Times based in the Washington Bureau. His investigations most often focus on worker safety and the environment. His most recent series, "The Outlaw Ocean" (2015-2016), explored lawlessness on the high seas.
Before joining The New York Times in 2003, Urbina was in a doctoral program in history and anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he specialized on Cuba. As a Fulbright scholar he did his doctoral dissertation research in Havana. During those years, he wrote freelance for The International Herald Tribune, Harper's, The Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor. He is a regular contributor to NPR and C-SPAN.
At the Times, Urbina was initially a reporter on the Metro desk. In 2005, Urbina moved to the Times' national desk to become its Mid-Atlantic Bureau chief, where he covered West Virginia coal mining disasters, the Gulf oil spill, the Virginia Tech shootings and numerous other breaking stories. He became a senior investigative reporter for the National Desk in 2010, where he wrote a series in 2011, Drilling Down, about the oil and gas industry and fracking. On worker safety, in 2013, he wrote a story about longterm exposure to hazardous chemicals and the federal agency, O.S.H.A., which is responsible for protecting against these workplace threats. For the New York Times Magazine, he wrote in 2014 a piece called "The Secret Life of Passwords", about the anecdotes and emotions hidden in everyday web-user's "secure" passwords.
In 2015, Urbina wrote a series called "The Outlaw Ocean", about lawlessness on the high seas. To report the stories, Urbina traveled through Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, much of that time spent on fishing ships, chronicling a diversity of crimes offshore, including the killing of stowaways, sea slavery, intentional dumping, illegal fishing, the stealing of ships, gun running, stranding of crews, and murder with impunity.
Urbina is an accomplished reporter and his work has received domestic and international recognition. He was a member of the team of reporters that wrote a series in 2006about diabetes, which received a public service award from the Society of Professional Journalist's New York City chapter and the Society of Silurians award for science health reporting. The series was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, Urbina was also a member of the team of reporters that broke the story about the then-New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer and his use of prostitutes, a series of stories for which the Times won a Pulitzer in 2009. In 2010, "Running in the Shadows" was a series Urbina wrote which focused on the sexual trafficking of minor and the growing number of young runaways in the United States. This series received the New York Press Club's award for feature reporting. Urbina delivered the annual Kops Freedom of the Press lecture in 2011 at Cornell University titled, "Investigating the Natural Gas Drilling Doom." Drilling Down also received a Society of American Business Editors and Writers, "Best in Business" award.
In 2014, his story about OSHA and worker exposure to Hazardous chemicals was a finalist in the Explanatory category for the Loeb Award. He was also on the Times team covering the death of thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh that was also a finalist for a Loeb that year in the international reporting category. In July, 2015, Urbina's, "The Secret Life", was nominated for an Emmy.
In 2016, Urbina's series called The Outlaw Ocean won various journalism awards,, including the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, The Sigma Delta Chi Award for Foreign Correspondence from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Media Excellence, The Best in Business Award for Feature Writing from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, and The Human Rights Press Award Online English Merit Award. The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) also awarded the series a prize in the Excellence in Digital News category, and an honorable mention in the Human Rights Reporting category. Photos from the series won The National Press Photographers Association's 2016 Award for Best Of Photojournalism Multimedia, and The Photojournalism/Documentary Award from Photo District News (PDN). The series' videos won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for News Series. The series was also a finalist for The Scripps Howard Award in Public Service Reporting, The Gerald Loeb Award in International reporting, The Michael Kelly Award, and won an honorable mention for The Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism given by the World Justice Project.
Several of Urbina's investigative pieces have been adapted to film. In interviews, Matt Damon and John Kransinski have said that the idea for their 2012 film Promised Land came partly from the Times investigative series, Drilling Down. A 2007 Times investigation by Urbina about so-called "mag crews"—traveling groups of teenagers, many of them runaways or from broken homes, who sell magazine subscriptions—was optioned for a 2016 movie, American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold and starring Shia LaBeouf. In 2010, Urbina wrote a profile for Vanity Fair magazine on Sam Childers, a former Hells Angels's biker and gun runner, turned born-again Christian preacher, who joined the guerrilla fighters in South Sudan. Urbina traveled with Childers, after he was ostensibly hired to kill a brutal warlord named Joseph Kony, leader of a group called the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2011, Childers' life story became the basis of a movie called "Machine Gun Preacher", starring Gerard Butler.
Mr. Urbina currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family.