In the story that brought home to many Australians the threat of local recruitment by Islamic State, Michael Bachelard and Armando Cordoba identified a mystery Western IS soldier as suburban Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi.

Tenaciously combining social media interrogation with on-the-ground research at mosques and with friends and family, the reporters presented an account of the youth’s short intellectual journey from atheist to frontline Islamic fighter. With Bilardi’s death by suicide bombing the following week, the reporters followed up with insights from his online manifesto and an account of his radicalisation.

Michael Bachelard began his career at The Canberra Times in 1990, writing about local and federal politics before moving to Melbourne in 1996. He worked at The Australian for eight years, writing business and politics. He joined The Age’s investigative unit in 2006, and later The Sunday Age. He spent three years as Fairfax’s Indonesia correspondent, between 2012 and 2015, and is now the editor of The Age’s investigative unit. He has won a number of awards and is the author of two books: The Great Land Grab and Behind the Exclusive Brethren.

Armando Cordoba is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne. He has a Master in Journalism from the University of Queensland and a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and journalism from San Diego State University. Born in Tucson, Arizona and raised in San Diego, California, he began his journalism work covering drug cartel activity in the Americas for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Since then, he’s covered conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Mexico and other parts of the Americas as well as Israel and Gaza, writing for USA Today, Wired, Crikey, News Corp and other news outlets.

Judges’ comments:

Michael Bachelard and Armando Cordoba’s unveiling of a “White Jihadist” teenager from suburban Melbourne put a young face to home-grown terrorism for the first time for many Australians. Confronted with a fast-moving story, the reporters adhered to their professional obligation to verify every facet of the article in a climate of online hoaxes and social media propaganda. The boy’s death by suicide bomb in Iraq quickened the pace and broadened the interest globally, but they continued to own the story with new revelations putting the teen’s radicalisation in context.