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NYT, USA Today, N.C. papers win Barlett & Steele

October 4, 2012

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The New York Times, USA Today and a joint project by The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer won gold, silver and bronze awards respectively in the sixth annual Barlett & Steele Awards for 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.

GOLD: “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart after Top-Level Struggle,” by David Barstow of The New York Times, received the top gold award of $5,000. Barstow obtained hundreds of confidential documents and interviewed important players in the company’s internal inquiry. He discovered Wal-Mart had received powerful evidence that its Mexican executives used systematic bribery payments totaling more than $24 million to obtain zoning rulings and construction permits.

“Yet Wal-Mart never notified law-enforcement officials in the U.S. or Mexico about the bribes,” the judges said, noting their “astonishment” that the firm’s headquarters would cover up violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

SILVER: “Ghost Factories,” by lead reporters Alison Young and Peter Eisler of USA Today, received the silver award of $2,000. The series involved a 14-month investigation that revealed locations of more than 230 long-forgotten smelters and the poisonous lead they left behind.  Reporters used handheld X-ray devices to collect and test 1,000 soil samples to prove there was a serious threat to children living in dozens of neighborhoods.

“As a result of their efforts, government officials in 14 states have reopened flawed investigations, tested soil or taken other action to clean up contaminated property,” said the judges.

BRONZE: “Prognosis: Profits,” by Ames Alexander, Karen Garloch, Joseph Neff and David Raynor, received the $1,000 bronze award for a joint project of The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer. Reporters dissected finances of large institutions through documents and sources to paint a compelling picture of nonprofit hospitals that function as for-profit institutions—often to the detriment of their care and charity missions. Discovered were inflated prices on drugs and procedures, lawsuits against thousands of needy patients and minimal charity care to poor and uninsured patients.

“All of that is in contrast to their large profit margins, billions of dollars in reserves and top executives being paid millions,” noted the judges.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: (in alphabetical order)

“Cutting-edge, in-depth reporting on global ethics, environmental concerns and health-care finances led the way in this year’s competition,” said Andrew Leckey, president of the Reynolds Center. “The wide range of news organizations and the diverse issues they probed underscored the fact that investigative business journalism is operating at a high level.”

The judges for this year’s awards were Amanda Bennett, executive editor/projects and investigations at Bloomberg News; Steve Koepp, editorial director of Time Home Entertainment Inc.; and Paul Steiger, ProPublica’s founding editor-in-chief, president and CEO.

The awards will be conferred Jan. 3, 2013, during Reynolds Business Journalism Week at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix.

2012 Barlett & Steele Award Winners from Reynolds Center on Vimeo.



DAVID T. BARSTOW is a senior writer at The New York Times and  the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. In 2009, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for “Message Machine,’’ his series about the Pentagon’s secret campaign to influence coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, he and Lowell Bergman were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for articles about employers who committed egregious workplace-safety violations.

Barstow joined The Times in 1999 as a reporter on the Metro Desk, and he has been a member of the newsroom’s investigative unit since 2002. Prior to joining The New York Times, Barstow worked at The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, where he was a finalist for three Pulitzer Prizes. Before that, he worked at the Rochester Times-Union in upstate New York and the Green Bay Press-Gazette in Wisconsin. Barstow, a graduate of Northwestern University, grew up in Concord, Mass.


USAToday's Alison Young
USA Today’s Alison Young, Silver

ALISON YOUNG is a reporter on USA Today’s investigative team and serves on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a national journalism-training organization. Before joining USA Today in 2009, she reported for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she covered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also wrote a Sunday watchdog column.She was a member of Knight Ridder’s Washington-based investigative team from 2003-2006. Before that Young spent 10 years as a reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press.

Young also has reported for The Arizona Republic and the Dallas Times Herald. Young’s reporting honors include two Scripps Howard Awards, two Gerald Loeb Awards and two National Headliners, as well as honors from the Associated Press Media Editors, Sigma Delta Chi, the Heywood Broun Awards and the National Press Club. Young served as board president of Investigative Reporters and Editors from 2009-2011. She is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.

USAToday's Peter Eisler
USA Today’s Peter Eisler, Silver

PETER EISLER is an investigative reporter at USA Today, where he’s reported on everything from lax enforcement of U.S. safe drinking-water laws to poor security at Russia’s chemical-weapons stockpiles. Eisler’s work has helped spur new laws requiring compensation for sick nuclear-weapons workers, fire protections in nursing homes, and safety testing for school-lunch food.

His awards include prizes from the National Press Club and the National Press Foundation. Eisler lectures for college classes and mentors students at high schools around Washington, D.C. Before joining USA Today in 1995, he reported for wire services and newspapers in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut.


AMES ALEXANDER, an investigative reporter for The Charlotte Observer, has examined the mistreatment of injured poultry workers, dangerous trends in airline maintenance, lives endangered by slow ambulance service and many other subjects. His stories have won more than 50 awards – including national honors from groups including Investigative Reporters and Editors, the American Society of News Editors, the Robert F. Kennedy Center and the National Press Club.

In 1995, he and several colleagues were Pulitzer finalists for a series on inner-city crime. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he has written for the Observer since 1993.

Karen Garloch Charlotte Observer
Karen Garloch, Charlotte Observer, Bronze

KAREN GARLOCH, The Charlotte Observer’s medical writer, has written about hospitals and health care since 1987. She worked with a team of reporters on a 2010 investigative series that found many N.C. infants whose deaths were attributed to SIDS had slept in unsafe settings and possibly suffocated.

She has also received awards for serial narratives about a cancer patient who died at home with hospice care and about one couple’s heart-wrenching decision to bring to term a baby with a fatal birth defect. A graduate of Ball State University, Garloch worked previously for the Cincinnati Enquirer and other newspapers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

JOSEPH NEFF is an investigative reporter at The News & Observer. His stories have led to the exoneration of an innocent man on death row, disciplinary proceedings against cheating prosecutors, the convictions of former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and 7 of her colleagues, and the disciplining of bad doctors.

The News & Observer's David Raynor, Bronze
The News & Observer’s David Raynor, Bronze

He has written extensively on Blackwater, the V-22 aircraft, the state’s troubled probation system and now-disgraced prosecutor Mike Nifong. His work has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, IRE, the Michael Kelly Award, the N.C. Press Association and McClatchy’s President’s Award. A native of Cleveland, Joseph holds a B.A. in American Culture from Northwestern University and a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, where he taught beekeeping.

DAVID RAYNOR is the database editor at The News & Observer, which puts him in the middle of many major projects.

His award-winning work includes series about lax enforcement of speeding laws; the failure of mental health reforms; state programs that failed to offset environmental damage from development; and North Carolina businesses skirting laws requiring them to buy workers’ compensation insurance and classifying employees as contractors, avoiding many required taxes. He joined The N&O in 1992.

Previous Barlett & Steele winners include the nation’s major news organizations as well as regional news outlets. Deadline is Aug. 1 for the 2013 awards for work produced in the year ending June 30, 2013.


Since 2003, more than 15,000 journalists have benefited from the Reynolds Center’s free training. Its mission is to help journalists cover business better through in-person and online training and its website, BusinessJournalism.org. It is part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus.

The center is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it has committed over $115 million nationwide through its Journalism Program.


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