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Phoenix, Milwaukee & Seattle newspapers win top honors

October 4, 2011

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The Arizona Republic, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Seattle Times won gold, silver and bronze awards respectively in the fifth annual Barlett & Steele Awards in Investigative Business Journalism, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism announced today.

Named for the renowned investigative team of Don Barlett and Jim Steele, whose numerous awards include two Pulitzer Prizes, these annual awards funded by the Reynolds Center celebrate the best in investigative business journalism.

“Public Pensions, A Soaring Burden” by Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic received the top gold award of $5,000. The series focused on questionable public-pension practices and their cost to taxpayers. A project that included 67 public-records requests uncovered elected officials making more in retirement than when they were employed and pensions paid to convicted felons removed from office for official wrongdoing.

“This is an important subject that many had taken shots at before, but what’s new is the clarity with which it addressed the issue and its rigor in expressing a complicated analytical story,” the judges said of the series that led to sweeping statewide pension reform. “It was fair and comprehensive in reaching out to those on all sides, dug deeply into public records and told us something we didn’t know.”

 “A Case of Shattered Trust” by Raquel Rutledge and Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel received the silver award of $2,000. The series revealed how a firm with a decade of serious regulatory violations of sanitary conditions was allowed to operate while the Food and Drug Administration did nothing. As a result of the stories, the FDA revealed the name of the bacterium that it found in the manufacturer’s contaminated alcohol wipes. Following a permanent federal injunction against the firm, the product is no longer manufactured.

“This brilliantly written series was prompted by the death of a two-year-old boy in Houston and led to the exposing of a serious problem in a plant located in its own region,” said the judges. “It is a systematic examination of the manufacture of a commonplace item and the sluggishness of regulation designed to protect consumers by investigating and correcting fatal flaws.”

“Seniors for Sale” by Michael J. Berens of The Seattle Times received the bronze award of $1,000. The series investigated the growing trend toward seniors being moved from nursing homes into less expensive “adult family homes.” The investigation uncovered more than 230 deaths that indicated neglect or abuse in these homes but were not reported to the state.

“This is groundbreaking, exhaustive reporting of a little-known abuse of elderly patients in which they are sometimes treated as commodities rather than patients,” the judges said of the series, which prompted significant reform at the state and county levels. “At a time when the aging population offers business opportunities, there are also opportunities for tragic abuses.”

Honorable mentions in this year’s awards are, in alphabetical order:

“In a volatile year for business and the economy, this year’s top entries struck blows against stunning abuses in the public and private sectors and got results,” said Andrew Leckey, president of the Reynolds Center. “In all our entries, newsrooms of a variety of sizes reaffirmed their dedication to intelligent and robust investigative business journalism.”

The judges for this year’s awards were Amanda Bennett, executive editor/projects and investigations at Bloomberg News; Myron Kandel, the founding financial editor of CNN; and Steve Koepp, editorial director of Time Home Entertainment Inc.

Awards will be conferred Jan. 3, 2012, during Reynolds Business Journalism Week at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix.


Craig Harris, reporter, The Arizona Republic
Craig Harris

Craig Harris is a senior reporter for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, where he has worked nine years. He has been a reporter for 20 years at six daily newspapers, including the The Olympian in Olympia, Wash.; The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.; The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.; and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He is a 1989 graduate of the University of Oregon, where he received a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Raquel Rutledge Milwuakee Journal Sentinel
Raquel Rutledge

Raquel Rutledge is an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where her investigation into fraud in Wisconsin’s day care subsidy program won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. Her investigation also won the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Reporting, George Polk Award and Goldsmith Prize for Investigative reporting and other national recognition. Raquel is currently the Louis Stark Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, where she is examining federal regulation and oversight of the nation’s food supply as it relates to public health. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Rutledge joined the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff in 2004 from the Colorado Springs Gazette, where she spent nearly seven years covering education, the military and city hall.

Rick Barrett has been a business reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 11 years, covering Harley-Davidson Inc., Oshkosh Corp. and other large manufacturers. His beat also includes agriculture and telecommunications. Among other issues, he has written extensively about labor disputes and the changing nature of manufacturing. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he previously worked at the Wisconsin State Journal, as well as Gannett newspapers in Florida and Michigan and was a news photographer in Little Rock, Ark.

Seattle Times reporter Michael J. Berens
Michael J. Berens

Michael J. Berens works on the investigative team at The Seattle Times. He previously worked at the Chicago Tribune and The Columbus Dispatch.  His reporting has garnered multiple national awards, including the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism and the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award. He has also been honored by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and Investigative Reporters and Editors.


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