ProPublica has won two Scripps Howard Awards in this year’s competition.
The award for excellence in business/financial reporting went to the series “The Secret IRS Files,” which revealed how America’s wealthiest citizens pay little or nothing in federal taxes. 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.
An anonymous source entrusted the newsroom with a vast trove of data, disclosing the income taxes paid by thousands of the nation’s wealthiest citizens over more than 15 years. Poring over the reams of numbers, the reporting team realized that, in some years, such business leaders as George Soros, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and Elon Musk owed not a single dollar in income tax to the U.S. Treasury. 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.
The trove offered an opportunity to trace the battle between lawmakers trying to create a modern state and titans who had the means to shape the tax code to their advantage. “If you were not outraged by the U.S. tax system before reading this series, you will be when you are done,” contest judges said. “This kind of courageous and compelling reporting has sparked more than dinner conversations. It has sparked a national conversation about potential changes in the law.”
“Sacrifice Zones: Mapping Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution,” a collaboration with The Texas Tribune and Mountain State Spotlight, won for excellence in environmental reporting, in addition to being a finalist for the Scripps Howard Impact Award. The investigation and groundbreaking data analysis revealed that industrial air pollution has elevated cancer risks for one-fifth of Americans — including a quarter of a million people exposed to dangers that the Environmental Protection Agency deems unacceptable. 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.
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 didn’t clarify the debate; it 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 a way no one else had, ProPublica built a first-of-its-kind interactive map that identified more than 1,000 hot spots.
“This long and deep investigation makes existing data on air pollution much more useful by allowing people for the first time to focus on their own backyards,” contest judges said. “Citizen groups and other media organizations will long be using the data and mapping tools to help protect the people exposed to this pollution.”
You can view a full list of Scripps Howard Award winners here.