The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) announced on Thursday that ProPublica won three awards and received two honorable mentions in its Best in Business competition recognizing excellence in business journalism.
The series “The Secret IRS Files” won an award in the economics category. An anonymous source entrusted the newsroom with a vast trove of secret financial information on the ultrawealthy, which revealed some of the systemic inequities that allow America’s wealthiest citizens to pay little or nothing in federal taxes. In some years, business leaders such as George Soros, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and Elon Musk owed not a single dollar in income tax. But these billionaires weren’t cheating on their taxes — they were using completely legal strategies that are far beyond the reach of ordinary wage earners.
Jesse Eisinger, Paul Kiel, Jeff Ernsthausen, Justin Elliott, James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, Robert Faturechi, Ken Ward Jr., Ellis Simani, Doris Burke, Agnes Chang, Lucas Waldron, Almudena Toral, Nadia Sussman, Mauricio Rodríguez Pons, Joseph Singer, Sherene Strausberg, Maya Eliahou, Chris Morran and Kristyn Hume contributed to the series.
Each story highlights a different strategy that the ultrawealthy use to shield their wealth from taxes, including writing off losses incurred by thoroughbreds or sports teams and, in Peter Thiel’s case, building a Roth IRA into a $5 billion tax shelter.
“Unchecked: America’s Broken Food Safety System” won in the investigative category and received an honorable mention in the government category. The series had contributions from Bernice Yeung, Michael Grabell, Irena Hwang, Mollie Simon, Andrea Suozzo, Ash Ngu and Maryam Jameel. Following a 2020 investigation by Yeung and Grabell into COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants, the reporters began combing through outbreak reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they came across a drug-resistant salmonella strain that had run rampant through the country’s chicken supply, affecting the entire industry. The team analyzed genomic sequencing data to show that, while the CDC had closed its salmonella investigation in 2019, USDA inspectors continued to frequently find the dangerous strain of salmonella in chicken samples, where it sickened tens of thousands of people.
But ProPublica didn’t stop at documenting the problems in the food safety system. The reporting team also used federal inspection data to build “Chicken Checker,” an interactive database that allows consumers to look up the salmonella records of the plants that processed their chicken or turkey.
“Sacrifice Zones: Mapping Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution,” a series that included collaborations with The Texas Tribune and Mountain State Spotlight, won in the innovation category and received an honorable mention in the health/science category. Lylla Younes, Al Shaw, Ava Kofman, Lisa Song, Max Blau, Kiah Collier, Ken Ward Jr., Alyssa Johnson, Maya Miller, Lucas Waldron and Kathleen Flynn contributed to the series. The investigation and groundbreaking data analysis revealed that industrial air pollution has elevated cancer risks for a fifth of Americans — including a quarter-million people exposed to dangers that the Environmental Protection Agency deems unacceptable.
In industrial neighborhoods, residents had long complained they were being sickened by the pollution coming out of smokestacks while corporate spokespeople argued the air was safe to breathe. The EPA’s go-to public data gave a diffuse view of emissions by census tract, obscuring the impact on those living closest to facilities. Using a more detailed EPA database in an unprecedented way, ProPublica built a first-of-its-kind interactive map that identified more than 1,000 pollution hot spots. Within weeks of the investigation, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited several of the communities featured in our reporting, and, in what environmental experts called a radical change in tone, he pledged to ramp up the agency’s enforcement activities.
See a list of all the SABEW Award winners.