ATHENS, Ohio -- For its 38-page, eight-part series "Profiting from Public Service," New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press will receive 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. Ursula Farfel is a 1956 graduate of Ohio University.
A $500,000 endowment established by Ursula and Dr. Gilbert Farfel during Ohio University's Bicentennial Campaign funded the Prize. Administered by Ohio University's 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 23, 2004, and at the College of Communication Awards Banquet on Sunday, April 25, 2004, on the Ohio University campus in Athens, Ohio.
The joint investigation by the Asbury Park Press and six other Gannett New Jersey newspapers found that those who made the laws in Trenton had systematically changed and exploited the rules to ensure that they and their friends would reap the spoils of victory under the guise of public service. Reporters uncovered a form of abuse dubbed "legislative greed," which included legislators padding their pensions, hiring relatives and handing out millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to employers, friends or party bosses. In the lead story, Press Investigations Editor Paul D'Ambrosio wrote: "It's all legal. And it's being bankrolled by you, the taxpayer."
In a letter to the editor following the series, one reader wrote: "Thanks for informing us, the public, about the 'criminal' activities of our politicians. Laws need to be passed that prevent these types of situations. Unfortunately, the persons responsible for creating the laws are the same individuals that are robbing us."
For its investigation, the Press analyzed 500,000 election contribution reports, 15,000 legislative bills, 3,000 public bonds for $54 billion of debt issued in New Jersey, and hundreds of payroll, employment and pension records. Reporters reviewed thousands of pages of government, legal and bond documents to confirm their findings.
Veteran New Jersey Senator Leonard T. Connors wrote that the series "rock(ed) the very foundation of the Legislature. … I truly believe that the articles, as written, have brought about the beginning of great change in New Jersey's state government for the better. … I believe that New Jersey has witnessed an awakening of the people we represent."
Six weeks after the first story in the series appeared, voters swept six incumbents with ethical problems out of office. Ethics reform, once taboo, is now a major issue in New Jersey government because of the series.
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. In this, the Prize's initial year, Ohio University received 43 entries that judges indicated were, overall, of excellent quality. Judges unanimously selected the Press' submission based on its scope and its effort to involve readers.
"It's hard to imagine how Gannett's New Jersey newspapers could have tackled a broader topic - self-dealing, double-dealing, nepotism, favoritism and just plain, old-fashioned cronyism by important politicians from both parties at all levels of New Jersey government," said judge Alan Horton, senior vice president/newspapers for the E.W. Scripps Company. "Collectively, the papers skewered one and all and then pointed to ways taxpayers could take their state back."
Other judges for the Farfel Prize were Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Douglas Clifton; Ohio University Professor Dr. Dru Riley Evarts; Senior Fellow/Founder, Columbia University's Hechinger Institute on Education and the MediaGene Maeroff; Columbus Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison; Hearst News Service Columnist Helen Thomas; and Chicago Tribune Public Editor N. Don Wycliff.
In addition to receiving a cash award, the Prize-winning team from the Press will serve as visiting professionals in Ohio University's College of Communication.
"As important as this award is to fuel ongoing initiative in investigative reporting, it also provides for the recipients to share their knowledge, their expertise and their curiosity with our students by inviting them to join us at Ohio University as visiting professionals in our College of Communication," said President Robert Glidden.
"Investigative journalists do an important job, bringing to light things that we wouldn’t know," said Ursula Farfel. "Gilbert and I admire their courage and tenacity, and we wanted to do something to reward them for that."
The Farfels, who now reside in San Jose, Calif., married in 1960. The former Ursula Beatrice Feer earned her bachelor's degree from Ohio University and a master's degree from Rice University in Houston. She taught at a Houston high school and worked in The Cleveland Museum of Art's library. She was born in Maine, and her family moved to Switzerland when she was 9 years old before settling in Cleveland.
Gilbert S. Farfel, who grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., was a member of the Department of Internal Medicine at Permanente Medical Group of Northern California from 1964 until his retirement in 1992. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia.
More information on the Farfel Prize is available on the Web at www.ohio.edu/farfelprize.
The 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.
The Bicentennial Campaign – which has raised more than $195 million toward its goal of $200 million to celebrate Ohio University's bicentennial in 2004 – will provide money for scholarships, endowed professorships, technological enhancements, innovative programs and selected capital improvements.
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Media Contact: College of Communication Assistant Dean for Development Heidi Tracy, (740) 593-4799; or Director of Development Communication Jennifer Bowie, (740) 597-1739