The Barlett and Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism were first conferred in the fall of 2007 to celebrate the best in print and online investigative business journalism. The annual contest awards a Gold award of $5,000 and a Silver prize of $2,000, funded by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. Submissions for new organizations around the country are judged on investigative enterprise, strong business theme, writing style, clarity and impact. In the words of Barlett and Steele, “tell me something I don’t know.”
This year’s second annual Barlett and Steele Awards highlighted two hard-hitting, innovating investigations from BusinessWeek and The Seattle Times.
Businessweek garnered the top honor for “Prisoners of Debt,” a three-part series that revealed how large financial firms regularly collaborate with doctors and hospitals to turn unpaid medical bills into high-interest consumer debt. It explained how banks and credit card firms badger unsophisticated consumers to pay off debts even after they have been extinguished by the bankruptcy courts. It also examined the so-called “micro-lending” that ties up the indigent in high-interest debt. The team tells the story behind the story ‘Prisoners of Debt’.
Clinching the runner-up spot was The Seattle Time’s “The Favor Factory,” a four-part series that uncovered thousands of purchases that the U.S. Congress has forced the military to make in recent years, including a $4.5 million Navy vessel that sits unused by a Seattle pier. The investigation of secretive Congressional earmarks including the scanning of hundreds of documents and a year spent building a database that directly linked this waste to political contribution.
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order) in the 2008 awards went to:
Bloomberg Markets, “Toxic Debt” (part 1, part 2, part 3) by David Evans and Richard Tomlinson.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Chemical Fallout” by Susanne Rust, Meg Kissinger and Cary Spivak.
The New York Times, “Golden Opportunities” by Charles Duhigg.
The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Investors Face an Age of Murky Pricing” by Susan Pulliam, Randall Smith and Michael Siconolfi.
“A Toxic Pipeline” by Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker of The New York Times received the first-place award for their stories, which documented China’s role in supplying a counterfeit drug ingredient that killed at least 100 people in Panama and is suspected of killing thousands of others around the world. Their use of first-person interviews and public records to spotlight the issue of Chinese exports of drugs and food has had dramatic international impact, the judges said.
“On Shaky Ground,” part 1, part 2, part 3; by Fred Schulte and June Arney of The Sun received the second-place $2,000 award. Their series in December 2006 tracked how Baltimore’s arcane system of property fees initiated in colonial times had evolved into a system of greed and lax oversight that preyed on the poor and elderly. They assembled a customized electronic database to track hundreds of lawsuits, cases and files. An original, well-presented series focused on the paper’s own backyard and made a difference, said judges.
Receiving honorable mention (listed alphabetically) were:
Bloomberg Markets, “The Secret World of Modern Slavery” by Michael Smith and David Voreacos.
The Charlotte Observer, “Sold a Nightmare” by Binyamin Appelbaum, Lisa Hammersley Munn and Ted Mellnik.
The Toledo Blade, “Business as Usual” by Joshua Boak and Jim Tankersley.