2019 Silurians Press Club Journalism Awards

THE PRESIDENT’S CHOICE MEDALLION

Extraordinary Excellence in Journalism
Gus Garcia-Roberts and Sandra Peddie and the Newsday Staff

          In March of 2018 Newsday published a 48-page, 30,000-word special section that shined a light on Long Island’s corrosive politics. Its investigation exposed corrupt ties between politicians, businesses and the law enforcement and legal communities of Long Island, many dating back generations. These complex webs stretch into some of the darkest corners of the region’s social fabric, especially in the real estate and industrial development industries.

BREAKING NEWS REPORTING: Newspapers, news service, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Class Trip Turns Deadly” by James O’Neill and Steve Janoski for The Record/NorthJersey.com. with photographs by Bob Karp, Amy Newman, Marko Georgiev, Tariq Zehau and Kevin Wexler.

          When The Record/NorthJersey.com staff photographer Bob Karp sent his first photograph from the terrible scene of a Route 80 crash involving a school bus loaded with Paramus middle school students, it made the newsroom go quiet. Reporters raced to the scene and found that a child and teacher were dead and 43 other students and teachers injured. All day long reporters and photographers gathered the story. Reporter Steve Janoski used a network of law enforcement sources to get the details of the crash, learning that the bus driver was attempting an illegal U-turn on the highway, while reporter Jim O’Neill expertly stitched together feeds from reporters positioned on opposite ends of a three-county coverage area to create a compelling narrative of the day.

FEATURE NEWS REPORTING: Newspapers, news service, magazines and online

Medallion: “The Case Of Jane Doe Ponytail” by Dan Barry and Jeffrey Singer for The New York Times, with photographs by Todd Heisler.  

           This is a brilliant investigative news feature, tracing in depth the operation of an Asian sex trafficking ring in Queen. It was done with crisp writing and deep background reporting, all conveyed in a colorful, narrative style.

Merit Award: “A Bright Light, Dimmed in the Shadows of Homelessness” by Ben Weiser for The New York Times, with photographs by George Etheredge.

          A fine example of how to bring to vivid life the story of a person who too often fades into the background of the urban scene, reduced to an abstraction rather than flesh and blood. Weiser wears out shoe leather and all the other tools of a seasoned reporter to produce a story that is understated, thorough and ultimately heartbreaking.

Merit Award: “Housing Crisis In New York City” by David Cruz for the Norwood News.

          With City Hall committed to expanding the stock of affordable housing, Norwood News, covering the northwest Bronx, asked a basic question: affordable for whom? The newspaper’s well-researched Housing Matters series, written by editor David Cruz, found that planned housing may be beyond the means of many Bronx residents struggling for the very soul of their neighborhoods.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Newspapers, news service, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Taxes and Trump” by David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Ross Buettner for The New York Times.

          For decades, Fred and Donald Trump escaped detection while building the Trump empire using questionable financial practices, deception and unlawful manipulation of the tax laws. Combining deep documentation, exhaustive reporting and sophisticated accounting analysis, this New York Times report exposed how the President’s fortune was built on a foundation of misrepresentations, lies and alleged fraud, behavior that continues to this day. This investigation is a landmark in the history of the Trump presidency.

Merit Award: “Sign Here to Lose Everything” by Zachary Mider, Zeke Faux, David Ingold and Demetrios Pogkas for Bloomberg News.

          This well-documented and meticulously reported story uncovered a dangerous new form of predatory lending that relies on the legal system to drain bank accounts of citizens accused, often falsely, of failing to pay their debts.

Merit Award: “Blue Lies” by Joseph Goldstein for The New York Times.

          A series that uncovered the disturbingly widespread practice of “testilying” by police, even under oath in judicial proceedings, to cover up shoddy or illegal police practices and questionable or mistaken arrests.

BUSINESS & FINANCIAL REPORTING:  Newspapers, news service, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Keep Quiet” by Ann Marsh for Financial Planning. 

           An outstanding demonstration of determined reporting, senior editor Ann Marsh dug deeply into how Wells Fargo rebuffed, tried to quiet and eventually fired an executive who tried to expose systemic fraud and disregard of federal regulations in its wealth management division. She outlined how the bank’s actions contradicted its professions of protecting whistleblowers in the midst of its efforts to clean up a reputation already damaged by the creation of thousands of fake accounts for unwitting customers.

Merit Award: “Ivanka, Kushner Could Profit From Tax Break They Pushed” by AP’s Trump Business Team for The Associated Press.

          The AP’s Trump Business Conflict Team dug deep into Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s activities in 2018, with hard-hitting investigations that broke news and got action. The reporting shined a light on glaring conflicts of interest and disturbing business practices that continue to this day as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner act as White House advisers without divesting their extensive financial holdings.

Merit Award: “Paper Jam” by Shawn Tully for Fortune.

          Troubled Xerox planned to merge with one of its biggest stakeholders, Fujifilm of Japan. Shareholder and corporate raider Carl Icahn teamed up with Texas billionaire Darwin Deason to block the deal in one of the nastiest takeover battles of the year. 

ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTING: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Toxic Secrets: Pollution, Evasion and Fear in New Jersey,” by James O’Neill, Scott Fallon and Chris Padota for The Record / NorthJersey.com.

          This exhaustively researched four-part report brought to light for the first time the lengths to which DuPont, over a period of a decade and more, downplayed to regulators and inhabitants of the nearby residential community the dire health risks posed by cancer-causing groundwater contamination at its now-shuttered Pompton Lakes munitions-manufacturing site. At the time the series ran, the problem remained largely unaddressed, despite reports of elevated levels of illness. Following its publication, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered his attorney general to probe DuPont’s management of the matter and his environmental commissioner to monitor cleanup operations.

SCIENCE & HEALTH REPORTING: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion:  “Simple Surgeries, Tragic Results” by Lindy Washburn for The Record / North Jersey.com.

          Invited by the USA Today Network to participate in an investigation of the safety record of the nation’s fast-proliferating same-day surgery centers, the Record had its health reporter look into the state of affairs in New Jersey, home to more than 300 such units.  What Washburn discovered, based on her resourceful mining of hard-to-locate public data, dogged pursuit of attorneys, heart-rending interviews with patients and family members, and personal visits, were facilities that were often woefully understaffed, improperly equipped, and free to hire personnel who could not make the grade at regular hospitals.  In a number of instances, these lapses led to infections; in others, to death.  Washburn’s reporting prompted lawmakers to begin tightening state regulations governing these facilities.

Merit Award: “It keeps us safe”: A New York City Bathroom Set Up to Stem Overdoses” by Jennifer Peltz of The Associated Press.

          When New York became the biggest U.S. city to embrace safe haven sites for injecting drugs, The Associated Press set out to find a story beyond the debate over whether such facilities should be established. Through patient and sensitive reporting, Jennifer Peltz tells the story of an under-the-radar facility that already exists in the overdose crisis: monitored bathrooms where staffers are prepared to come in with overdose reversing drugs if necessary.

Merit Award: “Cold Spring Harbor Scientists Discover a New Form of Lung Cancer” by Delthia Hicks for Newsday.

          Newsday Health and Science reporter Delthia Hicks takes us inside the story of the discovery, by sheer serendipity, of a new form of lung cancer. The finding of a once-obscure population of cells by a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientist and his team helps clear up why a subset of patients never fared well with conventional treatment. Now, doctors have a new target for strategic therapies.

PEOPLE PROFILES: Newspapers, news service, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Sir Shadow, Maestro of the Last of the Bowery Flophouses” by Alex Vadukul for The New York Times. 

          He is known to all as Sir Shadow, this strange creative man who is one of the last remaining residents of one of the last remaining flophouses that once lined New York’s Bowery. He is a 70-year-old poet and artist of singular talent, an elegant fellow in a fedora who has been living in the Whitehouse Hotel at 340 Bowery since the mid-1990s and who says, “A man with a million dollars doesn’t have what I have.” Regarded as a folk hero by the locals, his own story — who he is and how he got to where he is — has remained a mystery. Until now. In this compelling, compassionate profile, Alex Vadukul brings Sir Shadow into the light.

Merit Award: “The Change Agent” by Amanda Fortini for Vanity Fair.

          An illuminating portrait of the actress Michelle Williams, known for guarding her off-screen privacy just as fiercely as she bares the feelings of her on-screen characters. Williams opens up to writer Amanda Fortini with an exclusive account of how she felt when she learned she was being paid less than $1,000 for some reshoots while her male co-star was getting $1.5 million for the same job. Williams also reveals the grief she felt following the death of her partner Heath Ledger in 2008 and the new love she found with her marriage to Phil Elverum last year.

Merit Award: “A Broadway Mogul Redefines Clout in His Own Fashion” by Michael Paulson for The New York Times.

          Jordan Roth — pony-tailed, red-carpet ready, flamboyant and gay — is the highly successful, 42-year-old head of Jujamcyn, a group of five Broadway theaters, who managed to lure Bruce Springsteen to perform in one of them and who has had major hits in the others. He is, by any measure, a big-time showman. He is also an outspoken Democrat, activist and fund-raiser who is behind a series of satirical videos that poke fun at Donald Trump and the coarsening of the culture. Roth’s father, meanwhile, is a billionaire real estate investor who is a close friend and supporter of Trump, which makes for an interesting family dynamic.

ARTS AND CULTURE REPORTING: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Welcome to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn” by Yelena Akhtiorskaya with photographs by Alexey Yurenev for The New York Times.

          Brighton Beach, a seaside enclave of Soviet emigrés not far from Coney Island, is one of New York’s liveliest and most culturally insular neighborhoods. Here, novelist Yelena Akhtiorskaya and photographer Alexey Yurenev have teamed up to capture with exuberance, energy, warmth and wit a portrait of a bit of New York where “the sea turns to vodka and the newspapers turn Cyrillic.”

COMMENTARY: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “About New York” columns by Jim Dwyer for The New York Times.

          For millions of his devoted readers, Jim Dwyer brings the texture and the atmosphere, but above all, the real people of this great city, to life. New York is a richer place for his unique gift of storytelling.

Merit Award: “Up and Down Wall Street”: Columns by Randall Forsyth for Barron’s.

          Forsyth explains in exquisite detail and deep understanding the arcana of how Wall Street functions and the critical role it plays in the American and global economy.

PUBLIC SERVICE:  Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Hands to the Neck” by Will Van Sant for Newsday.

          For a year, Van Sant cultivated sources, collected documents and used shoe leather to come up with this extraordinary exposé. It chronicles the horror of the distressing and widening pattern of non-lethal strangulation as a tool for controlling youths with special needs in New York State institutions. The stories detail how state officials charged with protecting the vulnerable derailed an attempt to mitigate potentially lethal abuse because of concern that a focus on strangulation assault could bring unwanted attention.

MINORITY AFFAIRS REPORTING: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Middle School Integration in New York City” by Christina Veiga and Samuel Park for Chalkbeat.

          There may be no more liberal, tolerant neighborhood in the United States than Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But when it comes to the education of their children, attitudes among the parents in the wealthy enclave can take a hard right turn. Veiga and Park, writing for a new education-oriented website, chronicled in a series of articles the fierce resistance from parents when education officials proposed to integrate West Side middle schools with schools just to the north in Harlem. The stories serve as a backdrop for a discussion of the broad segregation that characterizes New York’s 1,000 schools, which educate 1 million children. Recent political attention has been focused on the city’s half dozen specialized high schools, Veiga writes, where admission is by test and African-Americans and Hispanic students are a tiny minority. Those elite high schools get most of their students from just 10 middle schools, several of them on the Upper West Side.

Merit Award – “ MS-13” Victor Manuel Ramos for Newsday.

          Newsday reporter Ramos tapped into contacts he developed during years of covering Long Island’s immigrant communities to earn the trust of a kid named “Edwin,” formerly a homeboy in one of the most violent cliques of MS-13, the Salvadoran gang whose members have terrorized high schools and neighborhoods in eastern Long Island and cities from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. Ramos uses Edwin’s tribulations as he separated himself from the gang to tell the larger story of where MS-13 came from and how police and communities are battling to contain its depredations.

SPORTS REPORTING AND COMMENTARY: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Through the Looking Glass” by Kevin Armstrong for The New York Daily News.

          A sweeping look at an FBI probe into the way businessmen and  coaches schemed to create a climate of corruption in which six-figure payments from sneaker companies were funneled to the families of elite high school basketball players via college coaches who themselves pocketed piles of kickback money. Reporter Kevin Armstrong spent six months pursuing the story, moving from high school gyms to college arenas, from Vegas hotel rooms to federal courthouses. He talked to teenage “next big things,” former NBA stars, scouts and coaches; listened to government wiretaps; and scoured documents obtained through FOIA requests. The result: A panoramic look at a probe that produced multiple convictions, guilty pleas and the resignation of at least one key coach.

Merit Award: “Hard Knocks: Lacrosse and Brain Trauma” by Jim Baumbach for Newsday.

          Researchers at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, Long Island, tracked 10 players through the school’s 18-game lacrosse season last year to monitor how their brain functions may have changed because of repeated hits to the head, raising questions about the impact of such blows even if a player isn’t diagnosed with a concussion. The school agreed to share the results of the study with Newsday, and the paper’s investigative and enterprise reporter for sports, Jim Baumbach, deftly wrote about the “subtle” declines in memory and slower cognitive reactions of the players.

SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “The Women’s Final” by J. Conrad Williams Jr. for Newsday.  

          When Serena Williams exploded with rage at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the finals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament after a call that probably cost her the 2018 championship, J. Conrad Williams Jr. was at courtside, his camera poised to capture it all. Looking at his pictures, you didn’t have to be a tennis aficionado to tell what was happening. His series of eight images depicting a teary-eyed Serena railing at an impassive official, calling him “a thief” and demanding an apology, or sulking in a chair with her face buried in a towel, spoke louder than Serena and conveyed just as much emotion.                

BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “Class Trip Turns Deadly” by staff photographer Bob Karp, for The Record/North Jersey.com.

          Bob Karp was the first photographer on the scene on May 17, 2018, when a much-anticipated class adventure to a historic park became a nightmarish, deadly ride for Paramus, N.J., fifth-graders. Their school bus, one of three heading to Waterloo Village, collided with a dump truck on Route 80 in western Morris County. The crash killed 10-year-old Miranda Vargas and beloved teacher Jennifer Williamson-Kennedy and injured 43 others. Karp’s photos and videos from the scene – some of them taken while balancing on the railing of an overpass while a reporter held him steady – were as incredible as they were heartbreaking. They brought to readers the terrible scenes at the crash site.

Merit Award: “Blizzard Blaze” by Thomas A. Ferrara for Newsday.

           On a snow-filled night in March 2018, veteran Newsday photographer Thomas A. Ferrara responded to a report of a car on fire on the Long Island Expressway. His dramatic photo captured members of the Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Fire Department as they braved a driving snowstorm to battle a car fire.

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY:  Newspapers, news services, magazines and online.

Medallion: “The Shrinking Middle Class of New York City” by Andre Wagner for Fortune

          Fortune magazine may be a surprising choice to be the winner in the feature photography category, but Andre Wagner’s poignant black-and-white portraits of New Yorkers who earn inadequate incomes despite working multiple jobs movingly illustrated a photo essays titled “The Shrinking Middle Class: Tales from New York City.” The magazine is commended for reaching outside its usual realm of coverage to focus on the plight of an often-overlooked segment of the American workforce.

Merit Award: “Mermaids of Long Island” by Thomas A. Ferrara for Newsday.

          Ferrara provides us with imaginative glimpses behind the scenes and under the waters of the Long Island Mermaid Pod, a group of land-lubbers that transforms itself — through costumes, practice and performance —from mere mortals into mythical, magical denizens of the deep.

TELEVISION BREAKING NEWS

Medallion: “November Snow Storm” by the Eyewitness News team for WABC News.

          The 11 p.m. coverage by WABC News of last November’s snowstorm showed the power of authoritative local news at its best. The news team’s whip-around reporting from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, combined with solid weather and government stories, gave viewers a complete picture of what was happening and what was coming next.

TELEVISION FEATURE NEWS

Medallion: “Concussion Coverup” by Walt Kane for News 12 New Jersey.

          Until Walt Kane’s reports appeared, few people knew that roller coaster rides can cause concussions and even fewer people would have guessed that once the coverage began the state would try to help amusement park operators disguise the risk of riding.

RADIO FEATURE NEWS

Medallion: “Trump Inc.” by the WNYC/ProPublica Investigative team for WNYC/ProPublica.

          In the age of Trump, WNYC and ProPublica combined their investigative staffs to produce “Trump Inc.,” an ongoing series of podcasts that has uncovered wrongdoing and conflicts of interests in the Trump business empire. They detailed how Trump and his children misled investors and profited as real estate projects failed, learned that some of the money raised for Trump’s inauguration went to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and reported that an inauguration official expressed concern about being overcharged and worried about what would happen “when this is audited.” They also uncovered how Trump was advancing the interests of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in Japan. With these podcasts, WNYC and ProPublica have created a new template for collaborative journalism in an age when authorities are broadly arrayed against fact-finding and truth-telling.

JUDGES: Linda Amster, David A. Andelman, Joseph Berger, Bill Diehl, Allan Dodds Frank, Tony Guida, Clyde Haberman, Herbert Hadad, Fred Herzog, Aileen Jacobson, Myron Kandel, Bernard Kirsch, Valerie S. Komor, Carol Lawson, Anthony Mancini, David Margolick, Kevin Noblet, Ben Patrusky, Michael Serrill, Mort Sheinman.

Editorial Research and Tech Support: Ben Long

Awards Chairman: Jack Deacy  

 

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