A team of reporters from the Los Angeles Times has been awarded the 2011 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting.
The $35,000 annual award, which has been presented for the past 22 years by the School of Journalism at USC Annenberg, honors the year’s outstanding work in investigative journalism that led to direct results.
The reporting team, led by Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb, was hailed for “Breach of Faith,” which exposed pervasive municipal corruption in the city of Bell, Calif., and detailed exorbitant compensation packages received by city officials. In the Los Angeles suburb of 36,000, city manager Robert Rizzo had received annual compensation of $1.5 million in salary and benefits, the reports showed, with similar pay packages going to the police chief and other city administrators.
The Times reporters uncovered the malfeasance while investigating a separate story in the neighboring city of Maywood. Vives and Gottlieb described the story behind the coverage in an August event at USC Annenberg. (Watch the video here).
Citing what the judges called “the finest tradition of shoe-leather investigative reporting,” the Selden Ring jury hailed the group for their service to the public. Eight former and current city officials have been arrested in the aftermath of the scandal, and the state controller’s office has ordered municipalities around California to post the salaries of officials on the Internet.
Three other finalists were selected from the pool of entrants, with the judges commending the integration of technology—including searchable databases and interactive reports—in the reporting:
- “What They Know,” by a team of reporters from The Wall Street Journal, a comprehensive examination of business spying on Americans as they use the Internet.
- “The Radiation Boom,” by Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times, a sweeping investigation of oversight on the medial use of radiation.
- “Education, Inc.,” by Daniel Golden, John Hechinger and John Lauerman of Bloomberg News, exposing how for-profit colleges target underprivileged students who qualify for federal financial aid packages.
Serving on the panel of judges were Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; David Boardman, executive editor and senior vice president, Seattle Times; Sheila S. Coronel, a professor and director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University; Anne Hull, 2008 Selden Ring Award honoree and a national reporter at The Washington Post; Jeff Leen, assistant managing editor of the investigations unit at The Washington Post; Melanie Sill, editor and senior vice president, The Sacramento Bee; and Russ Stanton, editor of the Los Angeles Times.
“Any of the projects cited by our fine judging panel would have been eminently worthy Selden Ring winners,” said USC Annenberg journalism school director Geneva Overholser. “All remind us of the powerful work being done by news organizations in these challenging times.”
“I’m particularly happy, having read the Bell stories from their beginning, to honor this work that so richly exemplifies journalism’s highest traditions—beat reporting with a watchdog sensibility and a commitment that doesn’t end until justice is served,” she added.
The Selden Ring Award winners will come to campus to accept their award in a lunchtime ceremony March 25.