Announcing the 2014 Barlett & Steele Award Winners

by October 3, 2014

ProPublica, Reuters and The Huffington Post won gold, silver and bronze awards, respectively, in the eighth annual Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism announced Friday.

Reynolds Center Entrance Cronkite School

The Reynolds Center has announced the 2014 winners of the Barlett & Steele Awards.

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

GOLD: “Temp Land,” by Michael Grabell of ProPublica, received the top gold award of $5,000. Grabell and the ProPublica research team found that major companies are increasingly turning to temporary workers to fill the most dangerous and dirtiest jobs in their factories, warehouses and processing plants. This exhaustive analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims and accident reports found that temps are hurt at rates as high as six times that of regular employees. It led to changes in temp agency practices, numerous investigations by authorities and a nationwide data collection initiative by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the purpose of tightening lax rules.

“The reporting was terrific, with lots of data reporting but also very powerful human reporting as well,” said the judges, who also commended the online presentation of the series. “The logic of what led to the problems — companies avoiding the expense of full-time workers — provides a sad tale about the evolution of our economy.”

SILVER: “The Child Exchange,” by Megan Twohey of Reuters, received the silver award of $2,000. The stories uncovered a clearinghouse of children through a cluster of little-known Internet bulletin boards where parents sought to get rid of children they had adopted overseas. Twohey and her colleagues documented illicit child-custody transfers by tracking thousands of transactions in which children were passed along to strangers, thereby bypassing judges and social workers who serve as the safety net to protect kids. Since the investigation, several states have enacted new restrictions on child advertising, custody transfers or both. Twohey testified before Congress and a four-agency Government Accountability Report was formed.

“Some of the best stories we’ve read in a long time with brilliant reporting about the horrible abuse of children from the use of forums on Yahoo and Facebook,” the judges noted. “They truly revealed something harmful in our society.”

BRONZE: “Hospice Inc.,” by Ben Hallman and Shane Shifflett of The Huffington Post, received the $1,000 bronze award. Their nine-month investigation, consisting of both interviews and data-gathering, found that the average U.S. hospice has not been inspected in a number of years. In addition, families are often subject to fraud and abuse as they are misled about the nature and costs of hospice. One result of this work, Hospice Check, is a research tool available for use by journalists and researchers.

“These stories exposed greed by companies and the tremendous harm it does to people who can least help themselves as they are about to die,” said the judges.

Sound data research, coupled with relentless personal reporting, were common denominators in the winning work.

“Workers, children and those at the end of their lives are the most vulnerable of people, and this year’s award winners showed true compassion toward all of them,” said Andrew Leckey, president of the Reynolds Center. “Negligence, perversity and corporate greed were uncovered by these reporters and publications as they refused to take anything at face value because the pursuit of truth was worth the effort.”

The judges for this year’s awards were Sharon Walsh, editor of PublicSource; Paul Steiger, executive chairman of ProPublica; and Rob Reuteman, professor at Colorado State University and former president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Steiger, who has judged the contest for the past three years, was recused from discussions involving ProPublica and final rankings.

The awards will be conferred Monday, Nov. 17, at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

Previous Barlett & Steele winners include the nation’s major news organizations as well as regional news outlets. The deadline for 2015 contest entries is Aug. 1, 2015, for work produced in the year ending June 30, 2015.