Financial crisis coverage dominates Loeb Awards

June 30, 2009 7:34:08 AM PDT
McClatchy & Co., one of the companies hardest hit by the crisis in the newspaper industry, was honored for its coverage of the economic meltdown. The Loeb Awards, among the highest honors in business journalism, have been presented for 36 years by Anderson School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles. They were established in 1957 by Gerald Loeb, a financier and founding partner of E.F. Hutton, to encourage quality reporting in business, finance and the economy.

Even as media companies struggle with a chronic decline in advertising revenue, made worse by the recession, they continue to put resources toward investigative journalism in covering the biggest economic and business story of the past 70 years. A number of award recipients spoke of being given a year or more to travel to big cities and small towns across the U.S. to write stories of abusive mortgage practices and other financial misdeeds.

The New York Times, which received three Loeb Awards, was honored for "The Reckoning," a 19-part account of who and what was to blame for the financial crisis. Lawrence Ingrassia, business and financial editor at The New York Times and the driving force behind the series, received the Lawrence Minard Editor Award.

In accepting the honor, Ingrassia said the current era hearkens "back to the 1930s, not because we're in a depression, but because it's increasingly incumbent on the press to be the watchdog."

The New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson, who co-authored "The Reckoning" with eight colleagues, also won a Loeb Award in the beat writing category for her coverage of the follies of Wall Street.

She shared that win with Rick Rothacker of McClatchy publication The Charlotte Observer, who was recognized for anticipating how adjustable rate mortgages would topple Charlotte, N.C.-based bank Wachovia Corp. and ultimately force its takeover by Wells Fargo & Co. That newspaper also received an Honorable Mention for its investigative series on the poultry industry, "The Cruelest Cuts."

The Miami Herald, another former Knight Ridder publication now owned by McClatchy, was recognized in the medium and small newspapers category for "Borrowers Betrayed," which chronicled Florida's failure to prevent convicted felons from working in the state's mortgage industry and bilking lenders and borrowers out of millions of dollars.

The awards come at a time when many newspaper publishers have been struggling with a sharp drop in their main source of revenue - advertising - as more readers shift to free news online and the recession crimps spending on real estate, help wanted and auto classified ads. Seven newspaper publishers have filed for bankruptcy protection since December.

Sacramento-based McClatchy has trimmed its work force by one-third, or more than 4,000 jobs, in the past year while shedding other expenses, including the dividend that it had been paying shareholders. Doubts about whether the 152-year-old company will survive have taken a toll on its stock price, with shares closing at just 50 cents Monday, down nearly 94 percent in the last 52 weeks.

CBS News/60 Minutes won both television categories, with its breaking news piece "Economic Crisis: House of Cards," on the subprime mortgage crisis, and enterprise segment "The Wasteland," about the toxic remains of recycled electronics.

Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of The Economist who retired in 2006 after 13 years in the position, received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bloomberg News received the award in the news service category for "Broken Promises," a story about abuse of complex trading instruments known as derivatives by municipalities.

Mitch Weiss of The Associated Press was a finalist in the news services category for his investigative report about real estate appraisers' inflation of home values and regulators' inability to effectively punish those caught committing fraud.

This year's awards were presented Monday night at a dinner in Manhattan. The winning entry in each category receives $2,000.

The full list of winners by category:

  • Large Newspapers: Gretchen Morgenson, Peter S. Goodman, Charles Duhigg, Carter Dougherty, Eric Dash, Julie Creswell, Jo Becker, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Stephen Labaton for "The Reckoning" in The New York Times.

  • Medium & Small Newspapers: Jack Dolan, Matthew Haggman and Rob Barry for "Borrowers Betrayed" in The Miami Herald. Honorable Mention: Ames Alexander, Franco Ordonez, Kerry Hall and Ted Mellnik for "The Cruelest Cuts" in The Charlotte Observer.

  • Magazines: David Leonhardt for "Obamanomics" in The New York Times Magazine.

  • Commentary: Brian M. Carney of The Wall Street Journal for "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." The WSJ is a division of Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp.

  • Breaking News: Carrick Mollenkamp, Susanne Craig, Serena Ng, Aaron Lucchetti, Matthew Karnitschnig, Dan Fitzpatrick, Deborah Solomon, Dennis K. Berman, Liam Pleven, Peter Lattman and Annelena Lobb of The Wall Street Journal for "The Day That Changed Wall Street."

  • Beat Writing: Sharing the award was Rick Rothacker of The Charlotte Observer for "The Fall of Wachovia" and Gretchen Morgenson of The New York Times for "Wall Street."

  • News Services: William Selway and Martin Z. Braun of Bloomberg News for "Broken Promises."

  • Feature Writing: Michael Lewis for "The End" in Conde Nast Portfolio.

  • Online: Art Lenehan, Peggy Collins, Aaron Whallon, Anh Ly, Elizabeth Daza, Joe Farro, Sean Enzwiler, Rachel Elson, Mark Baumgartner, Lauren Barack, Richard Conniff and Judi Hasson for "Middle Class Crunch" at MSN Money.

  • Television Breaking News: Steve Kroft and L. Franklin Devine of CBS News/60 Minutes for "Economic Crisis: House of Cards."

  • Television Enterprise: Scott Pelley, Solly Granatstein and Nicole Young of CBS News/60 Minutes for "The Wasteland."

  • Business Book: Charles R. Morris for "Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash," published by Public Affairs.


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