The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School is proud to announce the six finalists for the 2023 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. The Goldsmith Prize, first awarded in 1993 and funded by a gift from the Greenfield Foundation, honors the best public service investigative journalism that has made an impact on local, state, or federal public policy or the practice of politics in the United States. Finalists receive $10,000, and the winner – to be announced at the March 15 ceremony – receives $25,000. All prize monies go to the journalist or team that produced the reporting.
“This year’s finalists represent investigative journalism at its finest – classic stories that begin with a reporter tugging at a loose thread or following a lead, and uncovering truths too vital to ignore,” said Nancy Gibbs, Director of the Shorenstein Center. “We prize great public interest journalism for both its excellence and its impact, and these finalists represent the very best of both.”
The 2023 Goldsmith Prize winner will be announced at the awards ceremony, to be held March 15, 2023 at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The in-person ceremony will be open to public, and will be livestreamed at GoldsmithAwards.org and ShorensteinCenter.org. Admission to the in-person ceremony is free, but registration is required. Visit the Harvard Box Office online or in person to reserve your tickets.
2023 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting Finalists
How Hasidic Schools Are Reaping Millions but Failing Students
The New York Times | Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal
Over the course of their investigation, reporters Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal revealed that more than 100 boys’ schools operated by New York State’s fervently religious Hasidic community were providing only paltry instruction in English and math for their 50,000 students, and almost no science or social studies—and recording the worst test scores in the state. What’s more, the intensive religious instruction in Yiddish that made up nearly the entire school day was often punctuated by slaps, kicks and other regular uses of corporal punishment. All of it was being supported by taxpayer money—more than $1 billion in the past four years alone. After the stories ran, the State Board of Regents voted on rules aimed at holding private schools to stricter academic standards. Their reporting prompted multiple investigations at the state and federal level, and outraged lawmakers who pledged to introduce legislation that would bar corporal punishment in private schools. Read the reporting.
Investigating Federal Prison Abuse
The Associated Press | Michael Balsamo and Michael Sisak
The moment Jeffrey Epstein was found dead from a suicide in his federal jail cell, Mike Balsamo and Mike Sisak got to work. The two wanted to understand how the Federal Bureau of Prisons could have been so dysfunctional that its highest profile inmate in decades could have taken his own life. What followed was an investigation involving the federal Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency, that exposed systemic corruption, abuse of inmates and a culture that punished whistleblower employees while rewarding those involved in beatings of inmates and other serious misconduct with promotions, despite a record of dangerous behavior. In response to the AP’s investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Attorney General Merrick Garland fire then-director Michael Carvajal, leading to Carvajal’s resignation. The reporting also led to a series of hearings by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Read the reporting.
MIA: Crisis in the Ranks
The Philadelphia Inquirer | Barbara Laker, David Gambacorta, and William Bender
With Philadelphia suffering record levels of gun violence, Barbara Laker, David Gambacorta, and William Bender spent a year investigating police officers’ abuse of Pennsylvania’s generous “Heart and Lung” disability benefit. An astonishing number were deemed by union-selected doctors as unavailable to work – one in seven patrol officers, or 14%, far greater than the percentage of disabled police in other cities. The reporters learned that the police union wielded a little-known power to select the doctors who treated the injured cops – a major conflict of interest – and discovered that of the seven doctors selected for the program, five had a history of questionable behavior. The Inquirer investigation prompted an audit of the benefits program by the City Controller, internal investigations by the Police Commissioner, and the introduction of a bill by state lawmakers aimed at cracking down on fraud and abuse within the police disability program. The reporting team also cites that by year’s end, the number of officers out with injury claims dropped by 31%, and the number of injured officers cleared for court duty more than tripled. Read the reporting here, and here.
Power Play: How utilities paid a consulting group that infiltrated local news media, attacked clean energy foes and intimidated public officials
Floodlight and NPR | Miranda Green, David Folkenflik, and Mario Ariza
A months-long investigation by NPR’s David Folkenflik and Floodlight’s Mario Ariza and Miranda Green uncovered just how far two major power companies went to try to make sure their political foes didn’t dampen their profits or hold them accountable. The reporting, building off of an earlier Floodlight investigation with the Orlando Sentinel, found that Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light paid consulting company Matrix LLC millions over a decade, resulting in undisclosed payments to news outlets that cast the utilities in a positive light and were critical of those who questioned their power. A freelance ABC News producer was also hired to misleadingly represent herself and confront politicians over controversies relevant to Matrix clients. These revelations were followed by leadership changes at both power companies, internal investigations into their work with Matrix, as well as broad calls for transparency and reform. ABC News also severed ties with the freelance journalist. The story offers a rare window into the way power companies and consultants manipulate the democratic system, and the pressure local regulators and lawmakers confront if they seek to hold those corporations accountable, and what happens when local news erodes. Read and listen to the reporting.
Mississippi Today | Anna Wolfe
Reporter Anna Wolfe read a startling statistic published in a 2017 report: Mississippi, the most impoverished state in the nation, was approving just 1.5% of families applying for cash welfare assistance. That statistic sent Wolfe looking for where the state was sending the federal funds, if not to families who needed them. Over the next five years, Wolfe submitted more than 80 public records requests and faced repeated stonewalling from government officials and agencies. Through the challenging reporting process, she discovered that the state was funneling tens of millions-worth of welfare grants through two nonprofits under the guise of former Gov. Phil Bryant’s nebulous anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi, which refused to provide direct aid, instead leading needy families down dead ends. After the arrests of state welfare agency and nonprofit officials for embezzlement, Wolfe’s reporting didn’t stop: through private text messages that officials concealed from the public, Wolfe uncovered corruption and influence peddling extending all the way to Bryant and former NFL legend Brett Favre. Bryant admitted to many of the report’s findings in a rare on-the-record interview. Multiple defendants have since come forward with allegations against Bryant or have relied on the reporting in court filings that insist Bryant be held accountable. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the NAACP president urged the U.S. Attorney General and Department of Justice to investigate Bryant’s otherwise ignored role in the scandal, and Thompson has vowed to hold congressional hearings. State lawmakers, citing the investigation, held multiple hearings about how the state could better spend its welfare grants. Several legislators filed bills in early 2023 to reform the welfare agency’s management and oversight over federal funds. Meanwhile, federal criminal investigations into the scandal continue. Read the reporting.
Undocumented and Underage
Reuters | Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg, and Kristina Cooke
A Dickensian scenario was playing out in America’s South: undocumented immigrant children, some as young as 12, working in dangerous factories building parts for two of the world’s most successful automakers: Hyundai and sister brand Kia. Initially prompted by the soaring number of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border and ending up in rural Alabama, Reuters reporters Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg, and Kristina Cooke spent more than a year with many of the state’s rural immigrant communities and uncovered widespread abuses in a fast-growing local industry enabled by billions of dollars in tax incentives and lax labor laws. First, the reporters found that Alabama staffing agencies were hiring underage migrants and putting them to work in poultry slaughterhouses. Soon, they discovered agencies had also placed kids at SMART Alabama LLC, a parts maker owned by Hyundai. Children were working long hours, including graveyard shifts, in dangerous conditions. Some were racing to repay human smugglers who had brought them over the border, authorities and migrants said. As a result of the reporting, authorities quickly found and rescued kids from one factory, and employers released other children from similar jobs. Alabama and U.S. agencies launched at least 10 investigations into the hiring practices. A Hyundai supplier and its recruiter have been fined for violating child labor laws. And Hyundai has acknowledged the problem, pledged reforms to remove all child labor from its supply chain, and begun discussions with the U.S. Department of Labor about the violations. Read the reporting.
Learn more at GoldsmithAwards.org