So keep an eye out for the Cenziper/Cohen series, “Forced Out,” whose Goldsmith win certainly makes it a strong contender for this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, which will be announced on April 20 (Shorenstein director Jones has said that the Goldsmith Prize is often “the Golden Globe to the Pulitzers’ Oscars”). The seven main pieces and twenty follow-ups demonstrated how D.C. landlords forced tenants out of rent-controlled apartments—often by refusing to make repairs or turning off the heat—apparently to make way for more lucrative new housing. The Shorenstein Center said that, as a result of the investigation, the Washington D.C. attorney general sued twenty-three landlords, the city fired half of its housing inspection force, and “The Tenant Protection Act of 2008” was introduced.
The Goldsmith awards provide a snapshot of the progress of women in investigative and public affairs journalism over the past two decades. Overall, since 1992, there have been sixteen women among the more than fifty journalists on the winning investigative reporting teams, and six of the eighteen career journalism awards have gone to women. The Goldsmith journalism book awards, however, have overwhelmingly gone to men, with only three women—including Mayer this year—among the thirty-three award-winning authors and co-authors.
Mayer noted that women had increasingly moved into covering national security issues that were once the domain of male reporters. Things have come a long way for her personally since 1984, when she became the first female White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. She recalls being told by one editor that the male reporters would be doing the national security stories, but she would be the one that would have to cover Nancy Reagan’s designer wardrobe if need be.
“Women at the top have made a big difference,” said Mayer, who was hired at The New Yorker by then-editor Tina Brown, and co-authored an earlier book with Jill Abramson, now the managing editor at The New York Times.
The latest Goldsmith awards “show how far women have come in the important jobs in journalism,” said longtime journalist Ellen Hume, a former Washington reporter with Mayer at the Journal and, earlier, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times’s Washington bureau. Hume is now the research director at the cutting-edge Center for Future Civic Media at MIT.
The Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, administered by the Shorenstein Center, honors journalism that “best promotes more effective and ethical conduct of government, the making of public policy, or the practice of politics.” The Goldsmith awards are funded by an annual grant from the Goldsmith Fund of the Greenfield Foundation. The winner among the six previously announced finalists was kept secret until the Tuesday night ceremony.
At a follow-up seminar on the state of investigative journalism yesterday, it was clear that there was no shortage of investigative topics for journalists to tackle, but a great deal of staff resources, time (months to a year or more, not hours or days) and old-fashioned shoe leather were still required to get results. The 2009 finalists, who received $10,000 per organization, said that they had had strong support from their editors and media organizations in doing so, despite the wave of cutbacks in the industry.
The five investigative reporting finalists included New York Times reporter David Barstow, for a series on the Pentagon’s misuse of military analysts to promote the Iraq war on television and elsewhere (it won the Polk award for national reporting last month); a five-person team from The Charlotte Observer that investigated how a company that produces chicken parts for market endangered the safety of its largely immigrant workers; a painstaking investigation by the Detroit Free Press that brought down the city’s mayor, leading to his resignation and prosecution for multiple felonies; a two-person team from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that investigated a fraudulent MBA awarded to a local businesswoman who happened to be the West Virginia governor’s daughter; and a series by the new non-profit investigative journalism project ProPublica, whose reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten, exposed the potential threat to drinking water from unregulated drilling for natural gas. Most of the investigative projects included online multimedia presentations that accompanied the lengthy stories.
While women largely swept the Goldsmith journalism awards, the 2009 Goldsmith prize for an academic book on the media went to a Princeton University political scientist, Markus Prior, for Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections.
New York Times reporter Barstow, a 2004 Pulitzer public service award winner for a worker safety series that also won the Goldsmith award, commented after the investigative journalism panel that, while there was considerable progress by women in journalism, there was still much to be done in recruiting minority journalists into journalism.