Society Honors Best Financial Reporting of 2016 at EFJ Awards Luncheon

Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
Jun 8, 2017

Richard Tofel, the president of Pro Publica, delivers the keynote address at the Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards luncheon.

At the NYSSCPA’s 34th Annual Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards luncheon on June 8, the Society honored some of 2016’s best financial journalism and the reporters and other professionals who produced it.

Richard Tofel, the president of Pro Publica, an independent, nonprofit organization that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, served as the luncheon’s keynote speaker. He spoke before an audience of approximately 35 journalists, editors and awards judges at the Tribeca Grill in New York City.

Tofel began by saying that he was especially proud of his colleagues at Pro Publica and their partners at The Real Deal, who won the award for best local reporting. Their series of articles, “The Rent Racket,” revealed tax breaks that New York landlords and developers received despite failing to offer their tenants rent-stabilized leases in return for those tax breaks. The series, he said, was a “revelation of gross hypocrisy of city and state officials who claim to care about affordable housing in this city, even though there are steps they can take easily without spending any more public money, steps they are simply not taking.”

“I want to talk briefly today, in an era of doubt about enduring values and institutions, about two elements of my own continuing faith, and to urge you to join me in that faith,” Tofel said.

“First, I still have faith in facts, not alternative facts—actual facts: facts of the sort that today’s award winners unearthed or otherwise brought to light, facts that power our democracy.

“Do such facts still have resonance in our own society, our policy and our politics? I believe they do. It is said, and it is true, that trust in our work of journalism is at a modern low. So some people conclude that facts are passé. And it is said, and it is true, that some of our leaders lie to us more than ever before. So some people conclude that facts are irrelevant. I think that that is not only nonsense, it is belied by the facts.

“Why is President Trump unquestionably the least popular new president of modern times? Why was Mr. Trump not offered the honeymoon, the early benefit of the doubt, Americans offered to George W. Bush … or Barrack Obama…? Because, I would submit, of the facts the press reported and the dissembling and broken promises that reporting has revealed.”

“It is true … that President Trump was elected. So was Warren Harding. So was Richard Nixon, twice. And that is where we get to faith. Faith in our democracy does not mean that the American people in retrospect will always get it right. But it does mean that they will get it right in the long run.

“Faith in the power of believe journalism does not mean that everyone will believe and act upon every good story. But it does mean that if we continue to do our jobs, they will eventually see their way to what is right and what is true.”

“And so I want to ask you today to keep the faith in facts, in democracy and in our role as journalists. Part of that is keeping faith in the American people, as an essential element to their restoring their faith in us.”

Tofel made reference to former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his conversations with President Trump, testimony that was taking place at the same time as the luncheon. He thanked the assembled guests for breaking away from the television to attend. He also said, “On the day Comey was fired, I wrote on Twitter and Facebook that I thought, as I still do, that we need to keep in our mind two thoughts: first, that the firing was deserved, and, second, that the president seems to have done it in an attempt to obstruct justice.”

“You may agree with me on one of those points or both or none,” he said. “That is not my concern today."  Tofel mentioned that a friend responded to his post by saying, “You’re asking the American people to hold two thoughts in their biased or disinterested little heads at the same time. Pardon my cynicism, but it seems like a long shot.”

“I cannot pardon her cynicism, and I will not do so,” Tofel said. “If we do not respect our readers, why in the world should they respect us?”

Tofel cited another example of what he views as a lack of faith in the American people: a tweet from a journalist on the day the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The journalist said,  “Americans will look at celebration pix and think the Affordable Care Act was repealed and replaced.”

Tofel’s response to that tweet: “Well, first off, if you talk about Americans in the third person when you are one, you’ve simply lost your way.”

“Next, if you think something is obviously untrue, you need to avoid the arrogance and the faithlessness that holds that everybody else is missing. These are difficult days for our country, with today, perhaps, an historic day. But let’s recognize that they are especially difficult for those whose trust is being abused, who may slowly be concluding they were conned last year.”

“And, last, keep our faith in our fellow citizens, in the efficacy and the critical role played in democratic governance by our own work and in the facts themselves.”

Excellence in Financial Journalism Award Winners

In addition to Tofel’s remarks, the luncheon included an awards ceremony, recognizing the following journalists, whose work was published, posted or broadcast in 2016 and contributed to a better and balanced understanding of business or financial topics. Judges from the NYSSCPA and the New York Financial Writers Association selected the winners, ranking their submissions on accuracy, quality and thoroughness of research.

Excellence in Financial Journalism Book Award: Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Gordon discusses post-Civil War American between 1870 and 1970 and its economic revolution through the inventions of electric lighting, indoor plumbing, air travel, and medical advances. He also shares his view on how such a revolution can’t be repeated due to the nation’s slowing productivity growth and the new challenges America are currently facing.

Audio: Gimlet Media’s podcast, StartUp, for “Dov Charney’s American Dream,” a seven-part documentary series about the founder and former CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, and the rise and fall of his career due to the scandal of sexual harassment allegations and unethical business practices that caused him to be forced out of the company in 2014. StartUp’s host, Lisa Chow, and the rest of StartUp’s team, interviewed over 150 people during this series and were able to report new information that wasn’t revealed to the public during 2014.

Enterprise and Public Service: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy, The Miami Herald, and other media partners, for publishing one of the largest journalism investigations in history, “The Panama Papers.” Following the massive leak of 11.5 million records, more than 100 media partners investigated and exposed offshore holdings and unethical/illegal financial practices connected to world leaders, politicians and celebrities in more than 200 countries. The yearlong investigation and exposure caused governments and corporations all over the world to open inquires and investigations in response to the leak and helped create stricter regulations related to global tax evasion.

General Reporting: Kimberly Lankford, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for, “Making a Plan for a Special-Needs Child.” Lankford comprehensively explains strategies and resources through the experiences of real families with special-needs children. Lankford shares resources for infants, school-aged children, and those over the age of 18 by discussing federal and state government benefits, insurance coverage, special programs and grants available for children and young adults who have special needs and what their families can do to help them.

Infographic: Nicole Bullock and Joanna S. Kao, from Financial Times, examine what Silicon Valleys’ “unicorns” will have to face to go public in “Unicorns face tough road to Wall St.” Bullock and Kao, researched the growth of private tech companies with a valuation of at least $1 billion, known as “unicorns” and provided interactive infographics revealing the market value of 52 tech companies that went public between 2013 and 2015, as well as the market value of tech startups following recent IPOs.

Local: Cezary Podkul, Marcelo Rochabrun, and Derek Kravitz from ProPublica, and Will Parker from The Real Deal, for “The Rent Racket.” Podkul and Rochabrun address New York’s real estate industry and the secret deals that undermine legal protections for New York tenants. The team’s investigation, which included Kravitz and Parker, revealed tax breaks that landlords and developers received due to raising rent and overcharging tenants, which wasted millions of dollars a year in tax subsidies and contributed to the rise in New York’s homeless population levels. With help from the New York City Public Advocate’s office, ProPublica mapped more than 450,000 New York City eviction cases filed between January 2013 and June 2015 and created a database for New Yorkers to search and view those cases by street address.

Opinion: Rex Nutting, Marketwatch, for a series of opinion pieces from his “Money and Power” column, including an analysis of the fall of the American middle class and what contributed to its economic instability, inequality and political turmoil, and an examination of the do-it-yourself pension system and how it has contributed to America’s retirement saving crisis.

Video: Ashlee Vance, from Bloomberg Businessweek, for “Hello World,” a video series focusing on the technology scene around the world. In 2016, Vance visited 10 countries on five continents to find out how inventors, scientists and technologists from different cultures are shaping the future of technology.  Featured innovators included, Daniel Ek, co-founder and CEO of Spotify in Stockholm, Sweden, and Unit 8200, an elite branch of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that specializes in computer security and help protect against espionage and cyber attacks in Israel.

This year’s EFJ Awards judges were Gary Belsky, Mary Jo Brancatelli, Rumbidzai Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, Michelle Celarier, Jordan Frey, Orume Hays, Richard Hecht, Elliot Hendler, Joel Lanz, Iralma Pozo, Mike Taylor, George Victor, Michael Zaydon, and David Zweighaft. The 2017 EFJ book judges were Scott Adair, Justin Baer, Susan Barossi, and Leah Spiro.

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