News

The Charlotte Observer wins Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers for Series on Problems in Poultry Industry

March 16, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Charlotte Observer has won the Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers for its coverage of health and safety violations in the poultry industry. The paper’s series “The Cruelest Cuts” revealed how trade officials repeatedly ignored and threatened injured workers, endangering the health of thousands.

Two finalists were also chosen for the Taylor Award including The Columbus Dispatch for its four-day series “American Divide: The Immigration Crackdown” and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for “Young Guns,” a series on gang violence.

Based on thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews, “The Cruelest Cuts” investigation focused on the North Carolina-based House of Raeford Farms and uncovered serious safety regulation abuses that included preventing injured workers from seeking a doctor’s care, bringing injured employees back to work just hours after surgery and hiring underage workers to perform dangerous jobs. Many of those workers were illegal immigrants who were reluctant to complain, fearing repercussion if they did.

Throughout the production of the series, the paper sought comment from Raeford officials, even twice postponing publication to allow the company more time to respond to questions. Reporters for the series were Ames Alexander, Franco Ordoñez, Kerry Hall and Peter St. Onge. Ted Mellnik was database editor for the series.

The Observer stories have led to Congressional hearings and efforts to punish the underreporting of workplace injuries, the indictment of a Raeford company manager, increased staffing in the North Carolina labor department and promises from federal and state legislators to protect young workers from hazardous jobs.

Taylor Award judge Howard Witt commented: “This is a path-breaking series in the realm of fairness in journalism because it demonstrates why fairness is not merely an obligatory journalistic rule but a living, breathing value that, rigorously pursued, can make a story infinitely richer and more insightful….The company officials proved to be their own worst enemies, but none of that would have been revealed if the series’ authors had curtailed their pursuit of fairness once they heard their first ‘no comment.’”

Taylor Award judge Christine Chinlund added “The Charlotte Observer’s ‘Cruelest Cuts’ gives a voice to people who are rarely afforded one, and helped foster greater safety in an industry known for its unsafe and unsavory working conditions. The series opened with strong assertions but managed to support each one with facts and solid reporting. It did so even as it provided ample room for company response.”

The Taylor Award judges also recognized two finalists:
  • The Columbus Dispatch for its four-day series “American Divide: The Immigration Crackdown.” This comprehensive report looked at proposed legislation in Ohio designed to crack down on illegal immigration, comparing it with a similar law implemented in Oklahoma. The reporting revealed how state immigration laws have had unintended consequences that go far beyond those for illegal immigrants. Published in English and Spanish, the series relied on information gathered during a six-month investigation. Reporters were Jill Riepenhoff, Stephanie Czekalinski and Todd Jones. The anti-immigration bills put forward in the Ohio legislature stalled after the Dispatch investigation was published.

    Taylor Award judge Alfredo Corchado commended the paper for “producing stories that took in all views, from the workers themselves to employers who wrestle with the issue of legal versus illegal workers. Their reporting was refreshing, insightful and informative without the usual advocacy tone that often hampers other similar efforts.”

  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer for “Young Guns,” a series on gang violence from the perspective of gang members themselves. This approach required the reporters and editors to verify the accuracy of statements made by minors and gang members and tackle the dangers of glorifying gang violence. Staff reporter Claudia Rowe and photographer Mike Kane produced the series together with designer John Nelson, news editor Jennifer Johnson and copy editors Bill Fink and Christina Okeson. After the series ran, Seattle’s mayor announced a $9 million initiative to curb youth violence.

    Taylor Award judge Howard Witt praised the series saying “Writer Claudia Rowe was unblinkingly fair in portraying the young people caught up in this violent world, showing us their humanity while not shying from revealing their pathologies. What’s more, she provides a searing analysis of half-hearted, inconsistent intervention efforts by police, city officials and youth agencies that never appear to do much lasting good. By extension, she opens a window into what might work: relentless engagement and real alternatives for these aimless youths.”
Nieman Curator Bob Giles noted that “At a time when the very future of print journalism is threatened, the Taylor Award — which recognizes fairness in newspaper reporting — illustrates yet again why the resources of an established newsroom are invaluable. The kind of in-depth, time-consuming reporting that many newspaper reporters do is too often undervalued today. We salute the efforts of all the papers that produced such fair-minded entries in this year’s competition as well as the critical role they continue to play in our democracy.”

In making their selections, the judges for the awards identify stories that they believe meet the highest standards of fairness in all aspects of the journalistic process: reporting, writing, editing, headlines, photographs, illustrations and presentation.

The judges for the Taylor Award were Howard Witt, Southwest bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune andwinner of last year’s Taylor Award; Christine Chinlund, deputy health and science editor at The Boston Globe and a 1998 Nieman Fellow; Lou Ureneck, chair of the Department of Journalism at Boston University’s College of Communication and a 1995 Nieman Fellow; and Alfredo Corchado, Mexico bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News and a 2009 Nieman Fellow. Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation and a 1966 Nieman Fellow, was chair of the jury.

The Taylor Awards for the 2008 calendar year will be presented on April 16, 2009 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.

The Taylor honor includes a $10,000 prize for the winner and $1,000 each for the two top finalists. The award program was established through gifts for an endowment by members of the Taylor family, who published The Boston Globe from 1872 to 1999. The purpose of the award is to encourage fairness in news coverage by America’s daily newspapers.

William O. Taylor, chairman emeritus of the Globe, embraced the idea of an award for fairness in newspapers as a way to give something back to the craft to which five generations of his family devoted their working lives. For more than a century, the Taylor family’s stewardship of the Globe was characterized by an enduring commitment to fairness. At his invitation, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard agreed to administer the prize starting in 2002.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. The fellowships are awarded to journalists of accomplishment who come to Harvard University for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 88 countries have received Nieman Fellowships.

The Nieman Foundation also publishes the quarterly Nieman Reports, the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism, and is home to the Nieman Journalism Lab, which identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age. Additionally, the foundation runs both the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism, which seeks to advance the craft of narrative reporting and writing in all media, and the Nieman Watchdog Project, which encourages reporters and editors to monitor and hold accountable those who exert power in all aspects of public life.