Return to 2020 Best in Business Honorees
Winner – Bloomberg News; Foundering
Bloomberg realizes the full potential of the long-form podcast format with this artfully produced series. “Foundering” includes extensive audio from internal staff meetings run by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, whose dizzying rise and fall remains one of the most fascinating business stories of recent years. The series is especially insightful in its reporting about Neumann’s early life on an Israeli kibbutz, questioning whether his startup was really inspired by the commune — or a reaction against it.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of Gimlet Media and The Wall Street Journal; Race and business
This podcast series tells compelling frontline stories of how American business is responding to the powerful wake-up call from the Black Lives Matter protests. Listeners hear from a Black entrepreneur in Philadelphia who marched and supported the movement even after his own business was looted. An episode on Adidas, exposing racial discrimination at the company, led to the retirement of its human resources head.
Honorable Mention – The Center for Public Integrity; The heist
This hard-hitting podcast provides a solid, in-depth examination of legislation that forms the bedrock of the Trump administration’s legacy — the tax cut and the PPP recovery program. Told through a lens of haves and have-nots, the podcast dives deeply into these initiatives with well-chosen interviews with players and those impacted on all sides. Excellent investigative reporting.
Banking/Finance – Large division
Winner – Bloomberg BusinessWeek; Private equity in health care
Bloomberg reporters Heather Perlberg, Caleb Melby and David Kocieniewski have painted a devastating portrait of the harm private equity investors have done to the U.S. health care system in the year of coronavirus. Their stories were timely, deeply reported and clearly written.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; The coronavirus credit conundrum
Wall Street Journal reporters AnnaMaria Andriotis and Peter Rudegeair offered a piercing look at how the pandemic stimulus helped millions of Americans get their finances in order, even if they were out of work. The downside? Millions were at risk of falling behind on bills, but with the stimulus, lenders couldn’t tell. They continued to tighten credit, depriving consumers and small businesses of credit just when they needed it most.
Banking/Finance – Medium division
Winner – Fortune Magazine; The first lady of Wall Street
This well-written story places the Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser and her promotion as the banking giant’s first female leader into proper context, shattering a glass ceiling on Wall Street. This article was notable for the narrative about Fraser’s quest to manage her personal life and the cutthroat corporate sphere, such as taking time off the career track to have a child and how that improved her managerial skills and personal empathy. The piece was light on criticism of her career, since she had several assignments involving controversial businesses within Citigroup. Delightful piece, great backgrounding, wide appeal, well-researched and well-written.
Banking/Finance – Small division
Winner – ACBJ National Content Desk; Access to capital
This was an excellent set of stories on flawed and unequal lending practices by banks and the Small Business Administration. The judges were impressed with the writers’ deep analysis, original data reporting and compelling anecdotes. The narrative was accompanied by strong charts, including a standout graphic that showed depressed lending to Black-owned businesses.
Honorable Mention – Washington Business Journal; PPP coverage
This was a solid deep dive on PPP lending in the Washington area. For such a widely covered subject, the writer’s fresh take and unique sidebars were commendable. Graphics were “amazing,” one judge said.
Breaking News – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; The F.D.A. and Pfizer
The New York Times delivered a huge scoop with its story about the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine — a topic of intense interest to millions of Americans — earning it first place in the “Breaking News” category for large media outlets.
One of the highlights of this entry was the “First coronavirus vaccines head to states” story, which contained lots of specific details about all the logistical considerations and decisions in different states. Alaska, for instance, planned to distribute small batches of vaccine around the state by airplane, while Mississippi determined that hospital workers should get the vaccine before nursing home residents, so that the residents might gain confidence in the vaccine’s safety. And Richard Perez-Pena’s story about how the rollout would likely vary in the U.S., Britain and Canada offered good insight into the global nature of the challenge, and how many aspects of the effort had yet to be worked out.
Honorable Mention – Financial Times; Collapse of Wirecard
The Financial Times spent five years uncovering the truth behind Wirecard, a high-flying German payments company engaged in serious financial fraud. Falsely accused of collaborating with short sellers, the FT and its reporters were attacked by the German financial establishment and sued by Wirecard before the extent of its wrongdoing was exposed. The story shook the German business world, and led to the resignation of the country’s financial regulator.
This package of stories addresses the fallout: The admissions from Wirecard that it couldn’t account for 1.9 billion euros on its balance sheet, and the arrest of Wirecard CEO Markus Braun, as well as an analysis of how German authorities allowed the fraud to fester. The whole saga is an investigative tour de force, and a significant journalistic achievement deserving of an honorable mention. The judges’ only quibble was that much of the story was previously reported and therefore seemed miscategorized as breaking news.
Breaking News – Medium division
Winner – Bloomberg Industry Group; DraftKings, FanDuel fees deemed taxable in landmark IRS memo
This team delivered a scoop about a non-binding IRS memo that could result in millions of dollars of additional taxes for daily fantasy sports websites like DraftKings and FanDuel. The reporters followed up their scoop about possible excise taxes owed for entry fees with an analysis of the potential criminal legal liabilities the companies face, too.
Breaking News – Small division
Winner – Ad Age; The Richards Group coverage
The first report in this entry not only broke news but also produced the kind of impact more commonly associated with investigative reporting. Follow-up stories chronicled the rise and fall of an advertising firm whose 88-year-old founder called a proposed ad “too black” and wondered aloud whether it would alienate a motel chain’s white supremacist customers.
Honorable Mention – CoinDesk; PayPal crashes the gates of cryptocurrency
Bitcoin and other digital currencies have started gaining mainstream acceptance after trading for years. These stories broke news about one of the most significant moves in that direction: a decision by PayPal to allow customers to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency. The coverage also provided much-needed industry context regarding PayPal’s entry.
Commentary/Opinion – Large division
Winner – Los Angeles Times; When workers lose out
Hiltzik consistently points out the contradictions in many employers’ words versus behavior in the pandemic. His pieces argue important issues for workers during a historic time.
Honorable Mention – Los Angeles Times; Medicare for all
Lazarus actually talked to folks, which the old shoe-leather reporter tends to respect. And he cited a fair amount of data to back up his points. His style is a tad punchy, which can be refreshing given the academic tone of much commentary.
Commentary/Opinion – Medium division
Winner – The Economist; The cost of managed trade
Judges praised this piece for its refreshingly blunt cadence, its sure-footed grasp of economic history and its lively, compelling argument. “This column sets out a complex topic and explains it clearly, taking a position and backing it up with data.”
Honorable Mention – The Plain Dealer; This Labor Day, workers are feeling the heat of a jobs bonfire
Poignant and very powerfully written. In just 17 terse paragraphs, Geewax conveys the horror of watching a strong local economy — and its way of life — gradually fall apart. Her column “contextualizes the economic challenges this columnist has faced by setting them against the pandemic’s losses.”
Commentary/Opinion – Small division
Winner – Crain’s Chicago Business; Joe Cahill
Incisive, on-the-money commentary. These read like fully reported commentaries with good, strong criticism of CEOs and their corporations. Well executed.
Honorable Mention – Callaway Climate Insights; David Callaway
Makes a complex subject digestible without losing sophistication and reminds the reader of a very important point: revolutions and society-changing often require the price to be right. Well written and insightful on a big topic.
Honorable Mention – Memphis Business Journal; Greg Akers
The judges proposed a special mention to the Memphis Business Journal for its heartfelt commentary on race relations in the United States — and especially in the Memphis business community — in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Data Journalism – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; The pandemic economy
Labor-intensive number crunching on state jobless benefits before and after the $600/week supplement, and a compelling case on the relationship between lax social distancing rules and higher case counts.
Honorable Mention – The Washington Post; Most unequal recession in modern U.S. history
Good intuitive graphics coupled with compelling characters.
Data Journalism – Medium division
Winner – Kaiser Health News; Millions of older Americans live in counties with no ICU beds as pandemic intensifies
The judges’ top choice in the data journalism category for medium-size media was the Kaiser Health News offering, “Millions of older Americans live in counties with no ICU beds as pandemic intensifies.” It came out on March 20, 2020, yet it provided an in-depth analysis of an issue that had not yet come up but soon would — the availability of the kind of sophisticated equipment needed to care for seriously ill patients, particularly people 60 and older who faced the most risks from the virus. The project, which combined hospital and population data, included an interactive map giving readers the ability to look up the ICU bed capacity in any county in the United States. The accompanying article pointed out some of the counties where there were few or no ICU beds, and the writers interviewed medical experts about the significance of the numbers, including one expert who made the broader point that geography determines access to medical care. The writers also gave the article a human touch, talking to a lung cancer survivor who feared that doctors would ration critical care and she “wouldn’t make the cut.” The Kaiser submission was a strong example of what a data analysis should be — smart, comprehensive but down to earth. It answered a question that readers probably hadn’t yet thought to ask but needed to.
Honorable Mention – The Tennessean; COVID-19 crept from cluster to cluster, weaving a web over Nashville
This entry looked at the first seven months of the pandemic in Nashville and identified the ways the virus spread through the city by examining data from the area’s public health department. The writer, who covers health care for the paper, found that the virus initially spread among people who worked and lived together in tight quarters and later spiked again after people gathered at parties, church services and sporting events. An interactive graphic allowed readers to visualize where and how the virus spread in the community. The accompanying article used the data to dispassionately track the virus as it spread from a Tyson meatpacking plant to carpools to multigenerational homes and then on to other work sites. The judges were impressed that a small publication could provide its readers with as much detail on how a worldwide phenomenon played out locally.
Data Journalism – Small division
Winner – Crain’s Chicago Business; Crain’s data package
This three-part package stands out as a model of impactful data journalism. The data provides depth to the storytelling, with interactive graphics flowing alongside compelling interviews that together tell the story of Chicago’s reckoning with its racial divide. The interactive visualizations are informative, intuitive and very well executed. In particular, the subway map is fantastic and one of its kind.
Honorable Mention – ACBJ National Content Desk; Small business, big mission: One system, unequal access
This story does a good job marrying data with anecdotes and the points of view of lenders big and small. The first chart in the story (Post-recession depression in lending to Black-owned businesses) is particularly effective in driving home the disparities addressed in the story. It does a fantastic job of explaining the entire ecosystem of unequal access that Black American business owners face.
Economics – Large division
Winner – Bloomberg News; Left behind
First-rate deep dive into the chronic economic and housing inequality exacerbated by the pandemic. Focusing on people in two neighborhoods in one struggling city — one with booming home prices, secure employment and rising incomes and the other filled with increasingly desperate renters losing jobs, opportunities and incomes — the well-written pieces put flesh on the bones of the biggest story of 2020.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; The 2020 big/small dichotomy
Strong reporting from the front lines of big and small businesses and markets as they grapple with the unfolding challenges posed by the pandemic. Enlivened by great detail and color, like the Pfizer plant manager deactivating the CEO’s pass because he was nonessential.
Honorable Mention – The Washington Post; The K-shaped recovery
Thorough, solidly written and reported dissection of the pandemic’s impact, documenting the worsening inequality in housing, jobs and education stemming from the economic collapse and wildly uneven recovery. Wealthy people are watching their assets appreciate and net worth grow, while the working poor face the loss of income, evictions and limited opportunities to reach firmer ground.
Economics – Medium division
Winner – Houston Chronicle; Left behind
Strong writing and use of data to illustrate how the K-shaped recovery is leaving millions behind — after they came so close to finding growth and stability at the end of the last economic expansion. The anecdotes bring home the frustration and sense of lost opportunity.
Honorable Mention – Marketplace; United States of work
Incredible timing that this project started just prior to the pandemic and was able to sustain the concept through that critical challenge to workers and small employers. Rigorous methodology behind the selection of subjects. It is the breadth and scope of the project — and that it fits so well into the Marketplace ecosystem — that makes this such a strong entry.
Economics – Small division
Winner – ACBJ National Content Desk; COVID-19’s economic ripple effect
The Business Journals articles provide three lenses through which to see the impact of the pandemic. The restaurant and hospitality angle are obvious, but the higher education and breweries stories show how certain industries had preexisting conditions that made them vulnerable during this time (due to a dependence on international students and small business loans). The articles are well written and have nice graphics to illustrate and quantify the impact.
Energy/Natural Resources – Large division
Winner – Bloomberg Green; How a booming business for phony carbon offsets is holding back climate progress
The three-part series was an eye-opening investigation into the abuse of carbon offsets, which have burnished the green credentials of the biggest corporations and yielded millions of dollars for environmental groups, but not done much to slow climate change. The stories run on the long side, but the sprawling investigation is rich in detail and characters. It stretches from the Amazon to board rooms and finds the programs might add to our carbon problem by removing incentives for companies to reduce emissions. As the authors write, “Perversely, polluters might treat (offsets) as a moral license to burn more fossil fuel, the way a medieval lord might buy indulgences from the Catholic Church.”
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; Exxon runs low
This is a superb example of business writing and beat reporting that pulls back the veil on one of the most secretive companies, Exxon Mobil, and details the missteps and miscalculations that contributed to the worst string of losses in the supermajor’s history and ouster from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Matthews use his deep sourcing to break news and portray a company that lost its way and leadership that seemed to be fighting the last war.
Energy/Natural Resources – Medium division
Winner – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; After the explosion
The storytelling and structure were compelling, and the design was ambitious. It used a lot of data and information that flowed easily into the story. All the numbers were anchored in the peoples’ stories — part movie script, part shoe-leather journalism. Energy in the 21st century.
Honorable Mention – Economic Hardship Reporting Project; America’s radioactive secret
What the judges liked most about this entry is that it focused on the human at the center of the supply chain. By focusing on the truckers, it found a new way in. The judges appreciated that approach and found it very eye-opening.
Energy/Natural Resources – Small division
Winner – The Center for Public Integrity; Hidden hardship: Immigrant and foreign food workers toil, and die, in obscurity
Through shoe-leather reporting and rich data analysis, The Center for Public Integrity crafted an exemplary package of stories that deftly showed in text and graphics how immigrant workers in U.S. food processing plants went often unprotected — physically, socially and financially — as coronavirus raged across the heartland in 2020.
Honorable Mention – Portland Business Journal; Smoked out: Wildfires deal Willamette Valley wine a harsh blow
Pete Danko of the Portland Business Journal explored a little-known — but economically devastating — effect of wildfire on a key part of a state’s economy and educated a wider audience on the term “smoke taint.”
Explanatory – Large division
Winner – Los Angeles Times; Overwarned, underinformed
The judges were impressed by the clear, insightful research and writing from Geoffrey Mohan about a well-intended California ballot question that has long gone astray, by prompting companies across a wide spectrum of industries to adopt scary warning labels or simply avoid California entirely. This evidence-based assessment showed the referendum seemingly served no purpose other than to enrich plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Honorable Mention – Bloomberg Businessweek; Working through COVID-19
Josh Eidelson at Bloomberg did an extraordinarily good job explaining the risks and challenges of working through the pandemic, and how the weakened state of organized labor exacerbated the situation.
Honorable Mention – Bloomberg News; Silicon Valley’s racial reckoning
The Bloomberg coverage showing a lack of diversity in the new tech sector rose above similar in-depth efforts to cover this issue in corporate America, in large part by using data to help deconstruct exactly what went wrong and explaining in clear terms why Blacks, Latinos and women were shut out of the top echelons of the industry.
Explanatory – Medium division
Winner – Bloomberg Industry Group; Can businesses win fight over COVID-19 insurance claims?
A team from Bloomberg Industry Group did a superb job of reporting and clearly explaining a timely, complex and very important story: the nationwide battle over coronavirus business insurance claims. The team’s video and podcast transformed a complex subject into a lively, thoughtful and balanced analysis with excellent sourcing, background and context.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian and ProPublica; The cutting
“The cutting” is a story that most likely would have never been told without the powerful collaboration of three news organizations. In Oregon, the story of the spotted owl had become synonymous with overzealous environmentalists. Meanwhile, the timber business used the cover to exploit the forests and nearby small towns for decades. Powerful storytelling combined with groundbreaking investigative techniques produced a story that challenged the narrative of the spotted owl. The governor, the legislature and citizen groups are promising action.
Honorable Mention – Yahoo! Finance; Yahoo U
Delightful writing and clear explanations of subjects that sound mind-numbingly complex, such as SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) make “Yahoo U” remarkably helpful for anyone overwhelmed by the proliferation of confusing buzzwords and acronyms of business and finance. It’s even useful background — and fun reading and viewing — for those who understand arcane concepts and terminology.
Explanatory – Small division
Winner – Nashville Business Journal; Human trafficking: Nashville’s boom cloaks a crisis
The Nashville Business Journal’s special report on human trafficking explains in detail, at once clinical and shocking, how a gruesome daily round of misogynist abuse is part of the warp and woof of a thriving city, which pitches itself as a wholesome destination for tourists and businesses. Adam Sichko ranges over the whole dismal landscape in four parts, including one on John School, where men who solicited prostitution can expunge their records by taking a class in the risks they run with their behavior — and in the humanity of the girls and young women whose lives their patronage threatens. The whole package — the careful reporting, the storytelling in shards, the photos, the editing — is high-energy, persuasive, heartbreaking and infuriating. A graphic showing the advantageous economics of selling sex versus selling drugs is one example of this entry’s distinctive power. A first-class job.
Honorable Mention – Inside Climate Change; Hot molecules
Clear, crisp and direct. This examination of a plant in Pensacola looks at an otherwise unknown problem — the release of nitrous oxide in plastics manufacturing and its effect on air quality. It exemplifies the best of explanatory — the problem is defined, explained and a remedy is suggested.
Honorable Mention – The Counter; The American restaurant is on life support
An amazingly prescient article, which ran a week before the lockdowns, on the dwindling margins in the restaurant industry. Stabiner cites fickle trend-chasing customers, high-fee delivery services and venture capital financiers as contributors to an industry in peril even before the death rattle of COVID-19. This is a must-read for anyone who is writing an obit for closed restaurants in their town. Was closure just hastened by the pandemic?
Honorable Mention – Portland Business Journal; Smoked out: Wildfires deal Willamette Valley wine a harsh blow
The Pinot Noir grapes of the Willamette Valley were spared by the ravaging wildfires that scarred the region. But the lingering smoke was another matter, likely seeping into the skins of these delicate grapes just before harvest. Wineries were hesitant to buy these usually prized grapes, breaking longstanding agreements with growers. The tumult is causing widespread peril in the $5.6 billion wine industry in Oregon and will affect the availability of high-end Pinot Noir. This how-and-why story walks the reader through the winemaking process to understand the potential devastation that will linger long after the smoke cleared.
Feature – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; An Oakland bar
At first, the advent of coronavirus was met with fear, then later by varying degrees of numbness and acquiescence. The greater the number of infected and dead grew, the less real the suffering became in many ways. In this entry, Jack Nicas made the statistics real and gave a face and a voice to the people whose lives and livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. Each person in the story represents thousands — small business owners struggling to keep people employed, navigate the Payroll Protection Program, pay the rent; workers trying to make ends meet; the uninsured seeking health care. The result is a moving narrative that does what the best business writing is meant to do — clearly explain the problem and bring it down from abstract numbers into human stories that convey the depth and impact of an issue.
Honorable Mention – USA TODAY; Fighting to survive: Seven weeks, 30 million unemployment claims and the stories of people enduring it all
Discussions of the impact of the pandemic presented reporters with a unique challenge. Global in reach, the storytelling at that level often failed to address how intensely personal this situation was for readers. In a remarkable piece of reporting and storytelling, Alan Gomez, Deborah Barfield Berry, Charisse Jones and Dalvin Brown pull in remarkable personal stories while using multimedia tools adeptly to put the individual stories in the broader context. This team produced an engaging, captivating tale that informed and moved the readers.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek; Breaking the food supply chain
The trio of stories offer an eye-opening view of what life is like for workers who are struggling to keep up with demands on the food supply chain while they also struggle with putting food on the table. The stories, written by nine reporters, detail how part of the world will go hungry even as crops are left in fields to rot; how the number of Americans who are food insecure is on the rise, even where crops can be seen outside their windows; and how employees at meat plants felt pressure to work while sick, especially early in the pandemic. The story package is informative and well-crafted and is a reminder that frontline and low-wage workers are often those who pay the price for the rest of the world being comfortable.
Feature – Medium division
Winner – A collaboration of ProPublica and The New Yorker; How Dollar Stores became magnets for crime and killing
The judges were impressed by the depth and breadth of reporting that went into the Dollar Stores story, especially in tracking down and winning over reluctant sources with on-site reporting amid a global pandemic. A strong, interview-driven narrative revealed a disconnect between the company’s success on Wall Street and its failures within many of the low-income communities that have driven the company’s growth.
Honorable Mention – Forbes; Tony Hsieh’s American tragedy: The self-destructive last months of the Zappos visionary
The Tony Hsieh feature brought the reader into the self-destructive world of a much-revered business icon whose desire for happiness turned into his undoing. Angel Au-Yeung and David Jeans took us inside Hsieh’s inner circle and wove together a powerful tale that truly explained the surprise death of a young icon.
Honorable Mention – Miami Herald; A history of broken promises
“Broken promises” is an ambitious effort to answer a central question in the drive to confront the issues of systemic racism in America — how much has really changed for people of color in the past 125 years? The reporting by the Miami Herald showed in vivid detail that for people of color in Miami, the system is still broken.
Feature – Small division
Winner – Marker; Unlucky charms: The rise and fall of billion-dollar jewelry empire Alex and Ani
Judges praised Marker’s “Unlucky charms” for its depth of reporting and vivid, sophisticated and nuanced storytelling that made it a compelling read. It is an illustration of the struggles of turning a brilliant idea into a corporate empire and how a bizarre internal culture can jeopardize it all.
Honorable Mention – Crain’s Chicago Business; Missing pieces
“Missing pieces” showed a depth of understanding of the economic development struggles in Chicago’s underprivileged neighborhoods. Judges liked the use of multimedia, including audio and drone footage, in the online version.
Honorable Mention – Sportico; College sports dealmakers treat tampons same as porn, politics and tobacco
Sportico revealed the embarrassing truth that female hygiene products such as tampons were listed like porn and other sexual vices in collegiate sports marketing contracts. The scoop prompted at least one major university to halt the practice.
General Excellence – Industry/topic-specific publications
Winner – The Real Deal
The Real Deal stood out for being fun and gossipy but also deep and informative. It struck a big home run for a big, glitzy industry like real estate.
General Excellence – Large division
Winner – Los Angeles Times
In a highly competitive news year, the Los Angeles Times produced an extraordinary mix of reporting of particular interest to its local and regional readers: tightly focused spot-news reporting at the start of the pandemic, followed by a pair of deeply reported, brilliantly written and exceptionally consumer-friendly investigative stories.
In March, the paper broke the news that Tesla was operating its factory at full swing, with workers sometimes packed shoulder-to-shoulder despite a Bay Area coronavirus lockdown. On a separate front, the Times sent 29 reporters to grocery stores and supermarkets all over its region in the same three-hour period to tell readers (in individual mini stories) what was missing from neighborhood shelves amid panic buying.
A Times investigation revealed that toxic fumes are leaking into passenger airliners in midflight, sickening passengers and pilots. It identified 362 “fume events” in a two-year period, suggesting the number was only the tip of the iceberg. It also disclosed that Boeing had refused requests to install air sensors on its aircraft. Another story concluded that a 34-year-old California law requiring companies to identify toxic chemicals in food and other products was a serious failure. The disclosures were actually confusing consumers and fueling a legal shakedown racket with more than $300 million paid out in settlements by companies to habitual litigants.
General Excellence – Medium division
Winner – Miami Herald
The Miami Herald’s excellent reporting on stranded cruise ship passengers who spent months at sea amid confusion and obfuscation by the industry, in addition to its series of stories on racial inequality, set it apart from the other excellent nominees in this category. The depth of reporting, the dynamic storytelling and the use of well-produced and contextually relevant video demonstrated a newsroom that uses all of its tools to surround the most important stories impacting its city. This was business journalism at its best.
Honorable Mention – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the honorable mention in this very strong category. Its reporting on assaults in hospital garages was unique and powerful, bringing an important story into the light. Its investigation of death at meat plants was powerful and very well reported, and its feature on woman surviving the pandemic was unforgettable.
General Excellence – Small division
Winner – Triangle Business Journal
This newsroom shined across the board, with a relentless focus on stories of interest to their regional readership that showed an ability to dig deep, tell good stories and present them creatively. The Triangle Business Journal gave its readers high-quality journalism on stories of great local interest: an in-depth explanation of a lawsuit alleging a “no-poach agreement” between Duke University and the University of North Carolina; a prescient look at the damage the pandemic would cause restaurants; and a visually arresting examination of a local affordable housing design contest.
Government – Large division
Winner – A collaboration of USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting; Meatpacking
Terrific work starting with the early recognition that one of the country’s most dangerous and least desirable lines of work was likely to be vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus. Compelling tales throughout, and great use of the reporting partnership to reach people and places that would have been a challenge to an East Coast-based publication in a time of travel limits and other precautions. Packaged and presented very well. And finally, impressive that the reporting team stayed with the story and its effects long after the worst of the outbreaks had passed.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press; Underfunded and under threat
Extremely well done, written with clarity and authority and fortified by examples and sourcing that represent its national scope. Leaves the reader with a clear takeaway that tradeoffs made over time by government leaders made the country less capable than it should have been of responding to the pandemic.
Government – Medium division
Winner – ProPublica; Pandemic profiteers
This winning entry brought to light how the federal government’s reliance on private enterprise failed the American people in the early months of the crisis. The writer leveraged the power of investigative journalism and compelling storytelling to illuminate how the US government’s use of private contractors to source N95 masks ultimately delayed the U.S. response to the unfolding catastrophe.
Honorable Mention – Bloomberg Industry Group; Zoom courts
The honorable mention, “Zoom Courts” from Bloomberg Law, used well-sourced, holistic reporting to bring to life the justice system’s rapid shift to a virtual environment and how the transformation is likely to be a permanent one.
Government – Small division
Winner – Jacksonville Business Journal; Investigation into attempted privatization of downtown parking
This reporting exposed a problematic effort to privatize downtown parking in Jacksonville, bringing scrutiny where none previously existed. It’s a fine example of the impact local watchdog journalism can bring, and of change that wouldn’t have been possible without the reporting in this entry.
Honorable Mention – The Center for Public Integrity; The favored few
This was a very close contest. The honorable mention goes to smart reporting that exposed problems with food box aid, from distribution and delivery issues to cost, to whether aid was being inappropriately used as a religious tool. The reporting was cited in a lawmaker’s call for additional scrutiny of the Trump administration initiative.
Health/Science – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; Nursing home abuses
In this series, The Times has produced eye-opening reporting that exposes a system of perverse financial incentives, regulatory capture and opportunism driving the lightly regulated nursing home industry. The reporting, which included contacting ombudsmen in all 50 states because of the lack of national data, shines a light on some of the most vulnerable people experiencing the toll of this pandemic.
Honorable Mention – Business Insider; Inside the cultlike leadership of the Young Living ‘essential oils’ empire
Einbinder’s storytelling is utterly comprehensive in this sweeping series investigating the rise of Young Living and its dubious products. At a time when both unfounded distrust in medicine and social media-fueled misinformation are on the rise, such clear-eyed reporting is essential. Marvelous storytelling.
Health/Science – Medium division
Winner – Fortune; The risky business of breast implants
This is a very solid example of public service journalism, holding a major company accountable for how it has mishandled the hazards caused by its products. The story has impact and is a good read. The entry was so well done that it stood apart in a year when medical news was dominated by a once-in-a century health catastrophe.
Honorable Mention – Fortune; Fertility Inc.
This entry was quite strong for its quality of reporting and relevance as a topic, especially given the surge in interest in IVF in recent years. The story also serves a public service role in spotlighting what it calls a fertility industry “gold rush” that deals in the most intimate dreams of couples trying to build their families.
Honorable Mention – Forbes; Why Pfizer may be the best bet to deliver a vaccine by fall
This is an excellent profile, extremely informative and well done. The writing is engaging, and like some good books, left the judges wanting to know more. The article also stood the test of time, in a sense, given Pfizer’s success in delivering a vaccine in record time.
Health/Science – Small division
Winner – The Counter; What does a vertical farm taste like?
The judges are awarding this entrant the winner designation for her wonderful coverage of the growing vertical farm industry. What could have easily devolved into a regurgitation of PR talking points instead was a thoroughly reported and critical look into how the farms work, what they promise to change in the food industry and whether they deliver. The writing was excellent and gripping at times. The quotes added wonderful color. The research led to well-supported conclusions.
Honorable Mention – Indianapolis Business Journal; Pandemic threatens smaller hospitals while wealthiest get billions in aid
The judges are awarding John Russell of the Indianapolis Business Journal a runner-up designation for thorough coverage of the financial and operational stresses on hospitals during the pandemic. Russell exposed the haves and have-nots of local hospitals by focusing on detailed data and reporting to show staffing and funding challenges. His reporting brought attention to the national story happening in his community: While small hospitals were brought to the brink of financial failure, larger hospitals received injections of cash.
Innovation – Large and medium divisions
Winner – The New York Times; Designed to deceive
This innovative piece sheds light on a little-known aspect of technology: The use of AI to design fake people who can be used to populate ads or as fronts for online trolls or other bad actors. The New York Times designed its own AI to create dozens of images of people who don’t exist, yet are so realistic that most people wouldn’t be able to pick them out as computer simulations. The combination of reporting, analysis and the development of its own AI program created an innovative package that underscores both the promise and the threat of artificial intelligence.
Innovation – Small division
Winner – Crain’s Chicago Business; Crain’s innovation package
This entry shows strong multimedia storytelling in formats that reach different readers (print/online and audio). Breaking down tax bills is great explanatory journalism that more communities could benefit from these days.
International Reporting – Large division
Winner – The Wall Street Journal; Inside Facebook’s struggle to police hate in India
This well-documented set of impactful stories reveals how Facebook and its executives in India are conflicted, or even willfully blind, when company policy calls for blocking hate speech but company interests include working with a governing party closely linked to that hate speech. The stories describe the changes that the coverage sparked, the executive departures that took place and the real fears of retribution for social media managers in a country that rides even higher on political emotions than the U.S. Sobering reporting on a fundamental worldwide concern that resonates strongly with the ongoing turmoil over social media and hate speech in the U.S.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; How Ant’s IPO unraveled
These stories offered solid, in-depth reporting that got inside the political and financial dynamics of an abrupt, stunning reversal by China’s rulers. The pieces not only laid bare how Jack Ma’s hubris nixed his IPO and endangered his privileged status, they explained how Ant’s model enabled its rapid growth while leaving the risk to its banking partners. A well-written, logical progression of events pulling it all together for the reader and offering insight on why the growth of independent fintech threatened China’s governing circle.
International Reporting – Medium and small divisions
Winner – The Economist; Land rights in Africa
The judges’ winning vote goes to The Economist for stories on property rights in Africa. The articles are engaging, the graphics help tell the story and the subject matter has wide appeal. They worked on both a human and international level. Beginning with a diminutive protagonist, “Travels in Zululand” explains both the injustice of the landholding system and how “trusts” arose from South Africa’s apartheid past. Quality writing and a novel subject helped set that story apart, and the other pieces in the package provided an engaging tie-in with the larger issue of undefined property rights in Africa. Bravo.
Investigative – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; The president’s taxes
This stunning and impactful investigation demonstrated remarkable breadth and depth. It is among the most consequential pieces of investigative reporting of the Trump era.
Honorable Mention – The Associated Press; Palm oil labor abuses
AP reporters delivered brave and impactful reporting on the palm oil industry that underscored how consumers unwittingly contribute to abuse of workers.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; Deadly cruise ships
This story was impressive in scope and depth, as Wall Street Journal reporters scoured the globe to document the horrific treatment of passengers and employees by the cruise ship industry during coronavirus.
Investigative – Medium division
Winner – ProPublica; How global meatpacking companies exposed workers and communities to COVID-19 while government agencies failed to protect them
Powerful reporting that exposes the negligence and dishonesty of U.S. meatpacking companies that led to horrific sickness and loss of life during the pandemic. The reporters provide a deep inside view of the industry’s multiple failures, from misleading the public to allowing workers to labor side-by-side even as the virus raged. They bring their story to life with details from targeted public records requests that expose the panic of public health officials who expressed alarm over what they were seeing. These are stories that show excellent planning and deep reporting.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of the Youngstown Business Journal, WKSU and ProPublica; Desperation town: How Youngstown gave itself away for the promise of jobs
The Business Journal of Youngstown, Ohio, and ProPublica partnered in this deeply reported and well-written project that uncovered how struggling cities disbursed millions of dollars in failed efforts to attract well-paying jobs to the Youngstown area. The team studied 25 years of business development grants and other documents to accomplish the investigation, uncovering a story that likely would have remained buried in a region that is rapidly becoming a news desert. The work of the Business Journal and ProPublica spurred city council members to hold errant firms to account and led government officials to commit to restructuring the corporate tax incentive program.
Honorable Mention – Tampa Bay Times; Cash driven
Exceptional reporting. The reporter unearthed horrifying information about safety, deaths and coverups at a major armored security company. The story describes broken speedometers, nonworking seat belts, bad brakes and other serious safety issues in company trucks. The second piece exposes that the company was covering up the loss of millions of dollars it stored for financial institutions, and the third piece shows how regulation was not effective. This was published despite aggressive threats from the company’s law firm.
Investigative – Small division
Winner – Syracuse.com; How a British con man lured slumlords from around the globe to Syracuse
An outstanding piece of reporting and a gripping read. Featuring vivid photos, interviews from around the globe and a video package, this story took months of digging and showed how a British man bought up 100 low-income Syracuse rental properties and sold them to foreign investors by lying about the home’s investment potential. The result was years of blighted and unsafe properties in the city, a lot of angry investors and, ultimately, the suicide of the Brit.
Honorable Mention – Memphis Business Journal; DMC housing
This piece featured strong accountability reporting that made an impact, with nice layout and graphics that created an elegant read. Good digging on tax breaks for apartment developers found that many bent the rules on low-income tenants. This work resulted in more oversight and compliance.
Investing/Markets – Large division
Winner – Financial Times; Blackrock’s black box
There were a lot of surprises in this story. The very existence of Aladdin and the conflicts of interest that arise from Blackrock’s ownership of it are two, along with the risk to the broader market — from cyber-attack to a rogue line of code — that come from such a heavy reliance on a single platform. The writing kept the judges hooked throughout. The judges also appreciated the use of public documents to drive the narrative and shine light on a platform that is so deeply connected to the global economy.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; In the room where it happens
The judges really appreciated the diary format. It elevated the tension, chaos and panic of the market collapse, and gave a sense of following the story in real time, which kept them reading. The writing was crisp, the analysis was thoughtful and in-depth and the treatment of the black and white photos in “The day coronavirus nearly broke the financial markets” was nice.
Investing/Markets – Medium division
Winner – Forbes; 20-year-old Robinhood customer dies by suicide after seeing a $730,000 negative balance
This was a beautifully reported entry that took a tragic story and made it much bigger, and the reporters then followed up on the topic relentlessly. They exposed how Robinhood sells their customers’ trading data to profit-seekers on Wall Street, all the while keeping up the pretense that the company is customer-focused.
Investing/Markets – Small division
Winner – The Counter; Why COVID-19 plant shutdowns could make the Big Four meatpackers even more profitable
The Counter won with an impressive story on how the Big Four meatpackers used plant shutdowns to profit from the chaos of the pandemic. Joe Fassler and H. Claire Brown found that even as meatpackers closed plants, they paid less for cattle and charged more for meat. Industry insiders and academics bolstered the case that the closings helped meatpackers increase their leverage over cattle producers who were desperate to sell. Deft writing and illuminating graphics enhance this analysis, which comes as a surprise to readers not well versed in how this significant industry works.
Media/Entertainment – Large division
Winner – The Wall Street Journal; The collapse of Quibi
The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the collapse of Quibi led the way on one of the defining media stories of the pandemic: how one of Hollywood’s most ambitious startups raised $1.75 billion, only to shut down in one of the fastest collapses in history.
Honorable Mention – Bloomberg News; Video gaming’s #MeToo moment
Bloomberg’s coverage of video gaming’s #MeToo moment exposed sexual-misconduct allegations, brought about resignations, and sent shockwaves throughout the industry.
Media/Entertainment – Medium division
Winner – The Atlantic; A newsroom at the edge of autocracy
The Atlantic’s in-depth reporting on the SCMP at a critical time in the publication’s history that was unfolding during a tumultuous time in Hong Kong’s history shined a light on the pressure that media agencies face in China’s shadow. McLaughlin’s in-depth reporting and storytelling were compelling and opened the doors to what was one of the last bastions of the free press in Hong Kong.
Media/Entertainment – Small division
Winner – Quartz; How to save TV ads from extinction
The judges chose this as the winner because it is a timely and comprehensive look at television advertising, an engine of the medium that is facing an inflection point. We came away knowing more about the history of TV ads and their possible future than we did before. And we found the piece to be well complemented by the data displayed in the associated charts.
Newsletter – Large division
Winner – Financial Times; Moral Money
The Moral Money newsletter is less than two years old, and it’s already won two SABEW awards. This year’s winning entry again stitches together informed analysis, conversational writing and clear graphics in order to address an array of ethical questions about global finance. The net effect is a newsletter that makes the reader feel like part of the conversation around pressing topics such as ESG investing, boardroom diversity, Big Tech and climate change.
Honorable Mention – Financial Times; Energy Source
Energy Source quickly found its voice after the Financial Times relaunched the newsletter in 2020, closing the year as the publication’s fastest-growing newsletter. In six months, it became an indispensable industry read packed with original reporting, scoops, exclusive interviews and insightful takes on everything from oil prices to presidential energy policies. Editors Derek Brower and Myles McCormick supplemented the reporting with useful and easy-to-understand graphics.
Newsletter – Medium division
Winner – Axios; Axios Capital
A trove of information and analysis on everything from hot companies like Robinhood and GameStop to bond prices and foreign investment flows. All delivered with cheeky humor and engaging graphics.
Honorable Mention – Yahoo! Finance; Yahoo Finance Morning Brief
Predicted that Wall Street had fully priced in the recession as early as March 18. Easy to see why it’s built up a following of 600,000 subscribers.
Newsletter – Small division
Winner – STAT; D.C. Diagnosis
This newsletter covers a hot industry in a smart, insidery and lively way. It delivers must-reads and original analysis in a conversational tone that gets to the point and takes full advantage of email as a format — going well beyond a collection of headlines and links.
Honorable Mention – Callaway Climate Insights
Smart, topical, global, informative and geared to practical results with its focus on ESG and making both Wall Street and retail investors take a stand on the climate crisis. It is slickly produced with multimedia, quickly absorbed through its brief snapshots leading to longer pieces, and imbued with wit as well as wisdom.
Personal Finance – Large division
Winner – CNBC; Where’s the money
CNBC’s multiplatform investigation into Beam, a fintech industry offering that made big promises it largely failed to keep, is a solid example of personal finance service journalism at its best.
The mobile app claimed to offer up to 7% interest on insured deposits accessible 24/7 at a time when national rates for deposits were in the low single digits. Beam aggressively marketed itself to millennials and claimed alliances with 51 “member banks” with its marketing prominently displaying the FDIC logo. But instead of a new frontier, disappointed users got the runaround and many lost access to their money.
With compelling reporting based on interviews with users of the app, calls to the alleged member banks and an FOI request, CNBC exposed the flaws and misrepresentations of the service. The investigation also revealed that Beam’s business model appeared to be legal in the fintech world. “A series of complex arrangements connected Beam to the ‘member’ banks, letting it behave like a bank, but with little of the accountability. The FDIC insurance, readers learned, covered customers if one of the banks failed, but not if Beam did,” CNBC said in its cover letter.
Soon after CNBC’s initial report, the FTC sued Beam, alleging deceptive marketing. CNBC’s reporting helped nearly all customers get their money back, but more importantly, it showed consumers that along with the many opportunities fintech companies provide, there are perils and pitfalls.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio; Bill of the Month
Bill of the Month is an ongoing, crowdsourced investigation that assists consumers through the mystifying system that is used to pay for U.S. health care today.
“Every month ― and we are now beginning our fourth year ― we delve into a different patient’s travails and get to the bottom of what is happening, following the paper trail from a bill to unravel errors and reveal unfairness from doctors, hospital corporations and insurance companies. We tell these stories on multiple platforms, in collaboration with our partners NPR and ‘CBS This Morning,’” according to the cover letter for this entry.
There’s an outrage factor in each story that focuses on a billing trail for one patient. There’s solid sleuthing to run down many arcane elements in each bill they dissect. There’s action, and usually some remediation for the person they’re profiling. And there are abundant takeaways for ordinary people as part of the regular format.
Personal Finance – Medium division
Winner – Financial Planning/Arizent; A conflicted question: What is fiduciary advice?
The story raises important questions in wealth management and contains strong quotes from advisers who left Northwestern Mutual because of their discomfort with potential conflicts of interest. The work reflects in-depth knowledge of the subject and valuable sources. It is a story that could have further impact in the sector.
Personal Finance – Small division
Winner – AARP The Magazine; True tales of love and money
This package of stories addressed the challenges and complexity of dealing with money and relationships from the perspective of older adults. There are many articles about financial infidelity among couples. The lead story of this terrific package described the impact of older parents not being truthful with adult children about their own money problems and how that can have a devastating impact on those children and future generations. Lessons at the bottom of the page were excellent and actionable. The financial infidelity piece was also intriguing, as this story is not often told from the perspective of older spouses or exes. The judges also enjoyed the Q&A with financial coach Tammy Lally. Overall, this was a well-reported, engaging, informative package of stories that displayed strong sourcing and critical thinking skills to cover the topic of love and money in a new and meaningful way.
Real Estate – Large division
Winner – The New York Times; Housing and the pandemic
This collection stood out for me because it illustrated three distinct, searingly true points that other publications missed entirely. One, that overcrowded housing conditions forced on by poverty and high rents — not density per se — is what made people most vulnerable to the virus. Second, that complication born out of a desire to avoid fraud can hamstring even the most generous federal programs. And third, that while policy largely prevented the eviction wave many had predicted, it still came at tremendous human cost as tenants strained to stay put. All told with data, deep sourcing and empathetic storytelling. Dougherty literally wrote the book on this stuff before the pandemic, and his understanding shows.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; The pandemic housing boom
This entry deserves recognition because of the third story about house flipping, which shows not just a top to bottom picture of how money is flowing from giant private equity funds into mega housing portfolios and down to individual speculators, but also the potential effect on the fabric of neighborhoods in cities like Cleveland.
Real Estate – Medium division
Winner – POLITICO; The next great real estate crisis
In its climate change investigation, the Politico team presents a powerful, forward-looking picture of one of the most critical areas of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) today through the lens of U.S. housing and the failings of Fannie and Freddie to address looming economic and societal risks. Thorough reporting and deft use of data and images all contribute to compelling and impactful storytelling while helping the industry openly discuss a key challenge in need of addressing sooner rather than later.
Honorable Mention – Houston Chronicle; All corners
When the nomination letter from the Houston Chronicle editors lauded R.A. Schuetz’s talent for finding obscure but fascinating niches of the real estate market and telling those stories with verve, detail and even humor, little did the judges know how right they were. Schuetz has delivered a package of stories that reaches beyond real estate to cover hot yet diverse topics of 2020 with solid reporting — from racism to the pandemic to food supply chains.
Real Estate – Small division
Winner – Bisnow; At CRE’s biggest companies, talk about diversity is rarely followed by action
As the judges reviewed and discussed the entries, they found themselves circling back to the ones that touched on racism. In such an extraordinary and difficult year, the stories that sought to tackle hard questions were compelling. The judges liked this one’s systematic approach and felt it broke new ground.
Honorable Mention – Bankrate.com; Housing affordability: The squeeze tightens
The judges thought this series was solid and comprehensive, looking at many housing markets across the U.S. and presenting information nicely, breaking it up into digestible sections with good graphics and straight-forward writing. Home prices and housing affordability has been one of the biggest real estate stories this century, and they did a nice job of diving into it and presenting information consumers will find useful.
Honorable Mention – Puget Sound Business Journal; Pieces of an empire
A comprehensive and impressive piece that dug into a previously overlooked story.
Retail – Large division
Winner – CNN Business; Dozens of Amazon’s own products have been reported as dangerous — melting, exploding or even bursting into flames. Many are still on the market
In a year when many newsrooms chronicled the pandemic’s impact on retailing, this CNN Business investigation stood out for its freshness. The reporting team’s thorough probe highlighted the potential perils of Amazon Basics products. This underreported topic deserves the wider exposure this recognition brings to it.
Honorable Mention – Bloomberg News; Buying Black
Bloomberg reacted quickly to last summer’s racial justice movement and was among the first to capture a consumer sentiment shift toward supporting Black-owned businesses.
Retail – Medium division
Winner – ProPublica; Walmart was almost charged criminally over opioids. Trump appointees killed the indictment.
The difficulty and complexity of this reporting is significant. Uncovering a proposed criminal indictment and then describing its rejection at the highest levels of government is a rare feat in business journalism. This article demonstrated impact, as a U.S. attorney in Texas resigned after publication. The article foreshadowed a major civil suit against Walmart and suggested it had been watered down.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of ProPublica and The New Yorker; How Dollar Stores became magnets for crime and killing
A compelling case about how corporate cost cutting, low wages and heavy turnover put these stores and workers at risk of violence. The reporting demonstrated a great deal of creativity, such as interviews with local police, examination of liquor license applications and numerous interviews with current and former workers. Measuring the impact is difficult but the reporting addressed vital issues of corporate responsibility and made the case that these companies were not taking steps to protect their workers from repeated acts of violence.
Retail – Small division
Winner – The Counter; Why aren’t distilleries making more hand sanitizer? Because FDA forces them to make their alcohol undrinkable first
The story of distillers hustling to convert their alcohol production to hand sanitizer, to cope with sudden shortages of this critical pandemic supply, was covered often in the early stages of the pandemic. This was the other side of the story: that government regulation made it prohibitively difficult and expensive for many smaller businesses to do that, paralyzing a major source of sanitizer just when Americans needed it most. The breadth and depth of the reporting, the clear and effective writing and, perhaps most importantly, the clever focus on the “why” element made this story the clear winner in this category.
Honorable Mention – Tampa Bay Business Journal; Retail Package
Honorable mention for its particularly strong localization through graphics and other visual elements of a familiar topic: the massive physical footprint of Amazon.com.
Small Business/Management/Career – Large division
Winner – Bloomberg Businessweek; Greater awareness brings welcome challenges to Black-owned small businesses
In a year crowded by COVID stories, the judges were struck by the original nature of this series. It was a narrative not really seen elsewhere, and on a segment of American small business that often receives less coverage than it deserves. The judges were particularly impressed by the depth of the storytelling and the originality of the content.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; The insurance fight of a lifetime
This was one of the more unique COVID-related stories any of the judges could remember reading over the last year. While obscure to the public, it’s a crucial piece of the economic recovery story, and the judges were impressed to see it reported and told so well.
Small Business/Management/Career – Medium division
Winner – Fortune; How Chinese American restaurants are ensuring their future
The judges wish their publications had written this story. Their small business reporters should have looked at how Chinese restaurants are doing during a pandemic that former President Donald Trump (falsely) blamed on them. The narrative was great, with strong reporting. The story shows that half the Chinese restaurants stopped taking credit or debit cards in the past year, suggesting closed operations, and that the “‘blow to Chinese restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic is less a sudden hit and more the result of years of pummeling.” It is important to honor this story at a time when anti-Asian racism based on misinformation is on the rise. The writer did an outstanding job highlighting the resilience and hope of immigrants who are accustomed to dealing with existential threats.
Honorable Mention – Minneapolis Star Tribune; After the riots, the painful cleanup
Though this was a different kind of entry — sort of hyper local versus other stories in this category that were very broad — the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s entry on the impact of the riots was extremely strong. The judges assess these entries (at least partly) on what they learn, and this one really delivered. They learned more about demolishing costs than they probably ever wanted to, but left feeling much smarter and better informed about what these crises mean for cities. Reading about businesses that suffered damage during the riots provided a sense of what it must have felt like to be a business owner in that city at that time. It was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
Small Business/Management/Career – Small division
Winner – Sacramento Business Journal; Minority-owned businesses take a harder hit from the coronavirus crisis
In a category crammed with stories about issues facing small businesses due to COVID-19 and racial inequality, two obvious themes of the year 2020, the winning story managed to address both issues in a concise package while offering actionable information for business owners in the region on top of well-reported news. One judge noted that this story also predated the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, showing the newsroom’s focus on marginalized communities before the world’s attention turned to them. While it was very hard to choose a winner among a strong crop of applicants, this story stood out for its completeness and attention to multiple important subjects.
Student Journalism – Projects and collaborations
Winner – The Arizona Republic; Nationwide Insurance bought one of the state’s most valuable parcels of land in Scottsdale. It also got a great deal
Watching out for taxpayers and whether they are getting ripped off is one of the most important jobs a journalist can do. This article is chock-full of details that let readers decide whether they feel their representatives have been proper stewards of public land.
Student Journalism – Stories for professional media outlets
Winner – Dallas Morning News; It’s as if Hurricane Katrina hit every city around the US: How COVID is impacting 5 of the largest nonprofits
Walters’ work scores well in terms of solid research, writing and journalistic investigation. Perhaps more importantly, this piece showcases an issue of great importance for her local audience.
Honorable Mention – Poynter.org; How journalism interns reported on places they’ve never been over the summer
This entry is a nice take on how future business journalists are being challenged in today’s pandemic world. It is executed well and rightly deserves a SABEW nod.
Student Journalism – Stories for student media outlets
Winner – Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Cannabis farms struggle to survive California wildfires without insurance
This three-story package is deeply reported, well written and demonstrates initiative. The article about cannabis farms stands out because it highlights yet another point of contention that the cannabis industry faces as more states legalize marijuana, but it remains illegal on a federal level. That piece, along with the other two, combines personal stories with data and history to give important context to readers.
Honorable Mention – The Ryersonian; Adoption of surveillance tech for online exams sparks student backlash at Ryerson
This is a fascinating look at an emerging controversy caused by coronavirus restrictions. Readers are struck by the surveillance technology’s ability to track students’ eye movements while they’re taking a test. Unbelievable. The story is well balanced, with compelling comments from all sides. This is a great example of identifying an issue in your backyard that affects many readers.
Technology – Large division
Winner – Los Angeles Times; Harsh realities for gig workers in perilous times
The precarious nature of “gig economy” and warehouse work was apparent long before the pandemic. But as millions of workers put themselves in sometimes mortal danger to do these jobs, the L.A. Times’ series shed light on how tech companies failed to protect them. The reporting, which included in-depth profiles of individuals who faced these perils, should have raised questions in readers’ minds about the labor conditions their dollars support, and the treatment of the workers who make e-commerce and fast-delivery services possible.
Honorable Mention – The New York Times; Disinformation
Enterprising reporting full of revelations about the information ecosystem’s growing dark side, explaining how certain types of disinformation were disseminated, as well as the people and funding that played a key role behind the scenes. A classic example of following the money.
Technology – Medium division
Winner – Houston Chronicle; Next commercial frontier
The package from Andrea Leinfelder of the Houston Chronicle was a lively one, with three separate stories on the ins and outs of the important aerospace industry. People know very little about the inner workings of the international space station or commercial space travel, which is slowly turning into a lucrative business. Leinfelder pulls together engaging characters and impressively geeky details for this group of stories that help readers understand what is happening, without writing too far over anyone’s head. Leinfelder not only understands her beat, but she also has a particular talent for writing in a way that makes it a delight to read.
Technology – Small division
Winner – The Information; From despair to deluge: Silicon Valley during the pandemic
This entry offers a strong overview of the setbacks of tech startups at the start of the pandemic and their unlikely comeback. Effective and detailed anecdotes throughout the package helped draw in readers. In “Dreams upended,” Cory Weinberg tells a moving story about a laid off Lime employee whose son has cancer. In “Doomsday scenario,” Kate Clark describes how would-be investors in September arranged a private jet from a startup founder’s home base in Chicago to the investors’ offices in an attempt to convince her to accept their capital, even while the startup wasn’t formally raising money. The writers produced an accessible and engaging series of stories that catered well to their audience.
The Business of Sports – Large division
Winner – Financial Times; Sporting goods retailers grappling with race
Naomi Osaka was the most fascinating and important athlete in 2020. This was a fascinating look at how corporations handle her outspoken nature that goes outside the cultural norm. In addition, readers saw the tension between Nike’s public stances and internal shortcomings on diversity.
Honorable Mention – The New York Times; Covering the NFL during a pandemic
No American team sport is bigger than the NFL and no American team sport extracts more from its participants’ bodies than the NFL. It’s important to hold the league accountable for the treatment of its players, especially after they’re no longer playing
The Business of Sports – Medium division
Winner – Bloomberg Industry Group; DraftKings, FanDuel fees deemed taxable in landmark IRS memo
Revealing look at how a basic decision can have huge ramifications for an industry. A well-sourced, well-quantified and well-written analysis of a significant gambling tax issue by the Bloomberg reporters.
The Business of Sports – Small division
Winner – Sportico; The Business of Sports package
If simplicity and clarity are the essence of good journalism, the Sportico work is a brilliant example of it. The graphic for the valuation of sports teams, for instance, is a masterwork in reporting, distilling and presenting complex material in a straightforward, easily accessible way. Well done.
Honorable Mention – St. Louis Business Journal; Sports business package
Sports teams are crucial to the health of many downtowns, and their absence brings major ripple effects for shop, restaurants, bars and other businesses in and around stadiums. Detailing those effects as they radiate out beyond the playing fields, as the paper here has done, brings home the losses in a powerful and personal way. Beautifully written and well reported.
Travel/Transportation – Large division
Winner – Los Angeles Times; Fumed out
The L.A. Times entry stood above the others in a very competitive category. Compelling reporting from primary sources. Engagingly written and well-illustrated, with smart, specific art that moved the story forward with new information. It’s not easy to explain how airplanes work, and the L.A. Times did it with plain, vivid language. The pieces inform the public and have the potential to create real, beneficial change.
Honorable Mention – The Wall Street Journal; Airlines in distress
The “Airlines in distress” entry from the WSJ was a smart, engaging group of stories that explain an unprecedented situation in the present and paint a worrisome picture of the future. Great anecdotes, sourcing and interviews, peppered with compelling and informative art.
Travel/Transportation – Medium division
Winner – Miami Herald; COVID cruises
The Miami Herald team showed government indifference and cruise ships ignoring the rising coronavirus danger. This team of writers should be applauded for digging through the numbers via multiple sources on cruise ship passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 — and more importantly, died from it. They also reached out directly to cruise ship passengers, asking for help to further buttress their numbers and bring a human face to this tragedy.
Travel/Transportation – Small division
Winner – The Information; Uber
Amir Efrati’s deeply reported and well-sourced features about the leadership of Uber in the post-Travis Kalanick as CEO years offer compelling and often shocking windows into how a shakeup meant to right the course wound up, over the course of several years, doing the opposite. Few reporters can pull this off. Efrati demonstrates his knowledge and understanding of the business, and his grasp of the failures of leaders past and present. He has a long track record of following and reporting on the company — on business investments and moves, on labor and employment issues and on leadership. His reporting inevitably raises essential questions about the direction of the company and the possibility that, yet again, a failure of leadership might be doing more damage than the company deserves. The writing is clear and direct, with no ambiguity — making it all that much stronger. Uber’s story remains compelling, for maybe all the wrong reasons.
Honorable Mention – Crain’s Chicago Business; Now we know what your United air miles are worth
The judges were painfully unaware of how profitable such a program could be before reading this entry.
Video – Large division
Winner – The Wall Street Journal; 31 days in March
This looks back at just the month of March 2020 was a compelling reminder of how the U.S. was thrust into the middle of the pandemic, and the pivots required by big business to survive. Great voices in the piece, which covered a wide range of industries. Thought the pacing was excellent and production quality was top notch.
Honorable Mention – A collaboration of the Financial Times and PBS; Opioids, Inc.
A classic story of greed at multiple levels, and its unfortunate intersection with drug addiction and endangering lives. They secured excellent sources, and hearing from some of the convicted insiders made it all the more powerful to learn how they knew exactly what they were doing and why they regret it now.
Video – Medium division
Winner – Miami Herald; Stranded at sea
The seemingly endless voyage of thousands of stranded cruise ship workers is related in this personal experience of one who spent 171 days on water due to the world’s coronavirus restrictions. No pay, no land, little time outside the cabin, transferring between ships and only movies and internet for entertainment. A video of more than 20 cruise ships docked in Manila Bay captures the scope of this problem. The winning entry shows how ships, each hosting more than 1,000 stranded cruise workers, managed to provide service every day. This entry follows the daily routine and depression of one worker.
Video – Small division
Winner – San Francisco Business Times; Small business, big mission
This was an incredibly important story of the past year and it was told beautifully. The judges connected with the entrepreneurs who were interviewed on a human level. The judges liked that there wasn’t a narrator — they let the entrepreneurs tell it in their own words, which was compelling. They also appreciated the production quality — it was beautifully shot and the judges liked the flow, the music — all of it. Well done!
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