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Society honors best biz reporting of 2015 at EFJ Awards

Colleen Lutolf
Published Date:
Jun 3, 2016
The NYSSCPA held its annual Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards ceremony May 6 in New York City

The NYSSCPA honored some of 2015’s best financial journalism and the reporters who produced it at the Society’s annual Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards luncheon on May 6 at the Tribeca Grill in New York City. 

Michael Hudson, a senior editor at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), served as the luncheon’s keynote speaker, sharing with the audience of approximately 40 journalists, editors and awards judges the story behind the Consortium’s massive Panama Papers project, which relied on more than 370 journalists across 100 countries in order to be told. 

The story behind that story begins back in the early 1800s, Hudson said, when the United States’ unique brand of journalism began. 

“The first actual reporters in America were the people who reported the shipping news,” Hudson said. “They would literally row out in boats to the ships that would come in from England to get to be the first to get the news.” 

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This became a sort of arms race, Hudson said, with competing papers seeking to employ bigger and faster boats—anything that would help them to be the first to report the latest news from England. 

“What was going on [had happened] weeks and months before, but that was breaking news” in the colonies, he said.

Hudson made brief narrative stops at different milestones in American journalism’s evolution, including one in the late 1800s, when state capitol buildings replaced the sea as a reporter’s proving ground. “The star reporters were literally stenographers,” he said, “They would get down, verbatim, every word…and then the papers would publish transcripts of the entire debate.” Another milestone that Hudson highlighted was at the turn of the century, when “muckrakers” such as Ida M. Tarbell brought down John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s Standard Oil Company through a new kind of journalism— investigative reporting. 

“Then we went through many years where journalism was somewhat cowed and there wasn’t a lot of deep reporting, [but] that started to change in the middle of the century,” Hudson said, pointing to the publication of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post’s work on the Watergate scandal. “There was a real flowering of investigative reporting in the ’80s and ’90s, which took it beyond what it had been,” he said. 

What came next was something originally called “computer system reporting,” Hudson said, better known today as “data journalism. Which brings us to the Panama Papers.”

Most people know the story by now: an anonymously leaked data dump of 11.5 million records, implicating 140 politicians and public officials around the globe, including 12 current and former world leaders, in multiple offshore money laundering schemes, all with ties leading back to one Panamanian law firm. 

The journalist at the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, who initially received the data leak, turned to the ICIJ, which had experience and received numerous awards for its leaked data-based story packages on this same subject in the past. 

“We said, ‘Let’s put the team back together and do this again,’” Hudson recalled. But this data file, at 11.5 million documents, was much bigger—larger than any project the nonprofit news organization had ever pursued in the past. 

One of the primary goals for ICIJ editors was convincing a team of 370 journalists in 100 countries to ignore the journalistic instincts learned and honed back in the days of the shipping news, when every other reporter was a competitor, and, instead, work collaboratively, sharing everything they uncovered as they learned it through an encrypted online platform, a “sort of Facebook for journalists,” Hudson said. 

“The amazing thing about all of these journalists [is that they] displayed something that journalists aren’t really known for— teamwork and patience,” he added. For more than a year, the team kept quiet, even as news related to the leak was breaking. 

“In each case, the reporters really wanted to take the information and go with it,” he said, but the team had agreed: They would publish at 2 p.m., Sunday, April 3, and not a moment before. “[We were] able to talk to them about how much better it would be if [we] all did it together… .The truth is, when you publish together like this, you actually create this firestorm of attention.” 

Each member of the team kept his word. At 2 p.m., April 3, more than 100 media outlets across the globe started publishing and broadcasting the story. The fallout was swift: Within a week, Iceland’s prime minister had resigned and multiple countries launched their own investigations, including those led by the U.S. Justice Department and the IRS, or took an opposite tack and dismissed the findings outright after their own leaders were implicated. The Panamanian law firm at the center of the scandal, Mossack Fonesca & Co., has shuttered several of its international offices, according to the ICIJ, and faces investigations in multiple jurisdictions.

“You know, someone asked me, ‘Is this the future of journalism?’” Hudson said. “I think it’s not the future, but it’s certainly a future.” 

What he does see as the future of journalism is data journalists and “shoe leather” or traditional journalists (those reporters working a beat, in the field, building their sources) working together. 

“It’s not just saying, ‘Data journalists, you go off and you crunch the data and come back, we’ll take it and run and flesh it out,’” he said. “We needed to to talk to people on the ground to find out how this worked, so that we could work with our data journalists to figure out … the best way to crunch this data…. It just takes real reporting. That’s what made the Panama Papers a story that’s gotten an incredible amount of attention and response around the world.” 

Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards Winners 
In addition to Hudson’s remarks, the luncheon included an awards ceremony, recognizing the work of the following reporters from the national and local press whose work was published, posted or broadcast in 2015 and contributed to a better and balanced understanding of business or financial topics. 

Winners were selected by judges from the NYSSCPA and the New York Financial Writers Association, who ranked submissions on accuracy, quality and thoroughness of research. 
Beat News Reporting: Beth Kowitt, Fortune, for “Special Report: The War on Big Food.” Kowitt addresses Big Food’s multibilliondollar challenge, as more consumers demand unprocessed ingredients in their food. She shares a detailed analysis of how the removal of artificial coloring/flavoring, pesticides, growth hormones and other similar additives has already cost many Big Food brands millions of dollars, as they are forced to change their normal business processes. 

Explanatory: David Enrich, The Wall Street Journal, for “The Unraveling of Tom Hayes.” Enrich tells the story of Tom Hayes, a 33-year-old former banker/trader accused of masterminding a global conspiracy as a way to manipulate interest rates. After convincing Hayes to keep a journal of the days leading up to his trial, Enrich transformed these entries into an intense and dramatic five-part series that gave readers an inside look into Hayes’s life as the events unfolded. 

Independent or Affiliated Online Story (Medium to Small Media): The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and other media partners, for their investigative series, “Evicted and Abandoned,” which featured more than 80 journalists, internationally, who uncovered abusive business practices linked to dams, gold mines and other projects financed by United States’ top development lender, the World Bank. 

Excellence in Financial Journalism Award winners

Commentary: Susan Antilla, TheStreet, used her solid reporting and analytical skills in “Wall Street Has a Unique Way of ‘Protecting’ Small Investors,” as she exposed Wall Street for its efforts to avoid change that could possibly improve access to stockbroker records. Throughout her research, she also called out the securities industry for its empty arguments that tougher regulations would force brokers to drop smaller investors as customers. 

Personal Finance: Kimberly Lankford, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, for “Guide to Getting the Most Out of Medicare.” Lankford’s work comprehensively explained Medicare as a guide to help readers navigate the system, avoid mistakes and make sure they are signed up for everything that they need. 

Radio or Online Digital News Audio: Cardiff Garcia, Aimee Keane and Shannon Bond,  of the Financial Times were recognized for launching, “Alphachat,” the Financial Times’s  weekly business and economics podcast in which they cover topics about rebalancing the Chinese economy and the impact of automation on the labor market, as well as the divergence between the policies of major central banks.

Independent or Affiliated Online Story (Large Media): Heesun Wee, from CNBC .com, for the multimedia package, “How China is changing your dinner plate.” Wee discovered that Pete Olsen, a dairyman from Fallon, Nev., managed and led the building of a new manufacturing plant from the ground up to produce dairy products primarily for export to overseas markets, including China. With this discovery, Wee dug deeper to figure out how the world’s second-largest economy is reshaping U.S. agriculture, as well as the possible costs that this change could cause. 

Investigative: Michael Smith and Esme E. Deprez, from  Bloomberg News, for “The Coyotes and the Banks.” Smith and Deprez dug into the $10 billion-a-year human smuggling business to find the coyotes’ bankers of choice: Wells Fargo, Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. 

This year’s EFJ Awards judges from the New York Financial Writers Association and the NYSSCPA included Richard L. Hecht, Terry Wooten, Elliot L. Hendler, Iralma Pozo, Leah N. Spiro, David S. Zweighaft, Richard H. Kravitz, Susan Rodetis, Scott M. Adair, George I. Victor, Rumbidzai Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, Matthew P. Bryant, Salvatore A. Collemi, Jan C. Herringer, Michael A. Zaydon, Mary Jo Brancatelli, and Rosemary Schlank. 


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