ATHENS, Ohio (April 20, 2006) -- For its four-part series "Guardians for Profit," The LA Times earned the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize for Excellence in Investigative Reporting – a $25,000 award recognizing the finest examples of investigative reporting by print media in the United States. Farfel Prize judges named Virgin Islands Daily News reporters Tim Fields and Megan Poinski finalists for the award.
A $500,000 endowment established by Ursula – a 1956 graduate of Ohio University – and Dr. Gilbert Farfel at Ohio University funds the prize, which is one of the nation's largest prizes for investigative reporting and unique in recognizing the work of investigative print journalists.
Administered by Ohio University's Scripps College of Communication, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and the Scripps Howard Foundation, the prize will be presented at the Scripps Howard Foundation's National Journalism Awards at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 21, and at the Scripps College Awards and Recognition Celebration on Sunday, May 21, on the Ohio University campus in Athens, Ohio.
The substantial cash prize will be shared by Times reporters Robin Fields, Evelyn Larrubia and Jack Leonard. Their series examined the work of California's conservators – professional guardians who manage the affairs and assets of older adults. The reporters reviewed more than 2,400 cases over a seven-year period, including every one in Southern California between 1997 and 2003, and uncovered abuse of older citizens by those charged with their protection.
The series led to swift reforms. Less than two months after the first story appeared, Chief Justice Ronald M. George appointed a special task force to investigate the state's conservatorship system. At its first meeting the task force recommended reform to protect incapacitated adults citing the Times' series.
"No politician wants to be the one accused at the next election of having increased bureaucracy," said Don E. Green, a commissioner who presides over probate cases in Contra Costa County. "At this point, thanks to The L.A. Times, we've got the focus on the belief that sometimes regulation is a good thing."
There are about 500 conservators in California, overseeing $1.5 billion in assets with legal authority over at least 4,600 older adults. However, they are subject to less state regulation than hairdressers.
"Great job on exposing a corrupt system of care whose charge is the most vulnerable members of our communities," wrote one reader on the Times' blog created for the series. "With the continuing explosion of the elderly population in the coming decade, there needs to be greater public oversight of both government and non-profit agencies whose stated goal is the protection of vulnerable populations... The need for reform goes far beyond a rogue individual or agency... Your courage and rigor in doing this report deserves a Pulitzer."
Single journalists or teams from print media who covered a story completely and raised public consciousness and/or awareness about a topic were eligible for the annual award.
"The judges undertook a deliberative and thorough process of reading each of the 109 entries, and the overall caliber of the reporting and writing was extremely high," said Thomas Hodson, director of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism and Farfel Prize judge. "The best part was that smaller newspapers competed on an even playing field with larger news organizations. The judging team truly critiqued the work itself and not the news organization submitting the work. The outstanding quality of the submissions speaks well for the status of investigative reporting today."
In addition to receiving a cash award, the prize-winning team from the Times will serve as visiting professionals in Ohio University's Scripps College of Communication.
"One of the most important aspects of the Farfel Prize is its ability to bring dynamic investigative reporters to campus to share their knowledge, their expertise, and their curiosity with our students," said Greg Shepherd, dean of the Scripps College. "That's what makes the Farfel Prize truly special."
In 2005 the Farfel Prize was awarded to a team of Times reporters who spent a year investigating the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. Their investigation revealed not just a series of isolated tragedies, but a pattern of bad medicine endemic to the hospital. And, contrary to public opinion, it was not underfunded. As a result of the Times' reporting, elected officials initiated a restructuring of the hospital's operations. The entry also won a Pulitzer for public service. The 2005 Times' team will be on Ohio University's Athens campus May 22-24 teaching classes in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and meeting with students and faculty in Scripps College. More information on the Farfel Prize is available on the Web at www.ohio.edu/farfelprize.
The Scripps College of Communication provides both specialized training and a broad liberal education in all 44 programs offered by its five schools. It also provides experiential training through internships at 1,000 businesses and organizations and hands-on campus opportunities at six radio stations, two television stations, an award-winning regional magazine, a video production company, a cable news show, a public relations company and an independent student newspaper.
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Media Contact: Directorof Development Communication Jennifer Bowie, (740) 597-2987 or bowiej@ohio