Reynolds announces awards for investigative business journalism

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.

“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.

“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.

“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 this year’s awards are, in alphabetical order:

• Bloomberg News, “The Fed’s Trillion-Dollar Secret,” by Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz.

• Chicago Tribune, “Playing with Fire,” by Patricia Callahan, Sam Roe and Michael Hawthorne

• Reuters, “Chesapeake Energy,” by Brian Grow, Anna Driver, Joshua Schneyer, Jeanine Prezioso, David Sheppard, John Shiffman and Janet Roberts

“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.

About the Reynold Center

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, 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.

Media contact:
Andrew Leckey