MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and ProPublica took the bronze prize in the 14th annual Bartlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism for their “Profiting from the Poor” series.

“It is a chilling portrait of how precarious debt makes the life of the poor,” award judges said Thursday in an announcement of the winners. 

The awards are presented by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The prize is named for the legendary investigative reporting team Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele.

The winning series, written by MLK50 editor and publisher Wendi C. Thomas, exposed aggressive debt collection practices against the poor by Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare and Southeastern Emergency Physicians. The series led to Methodist erasing $11.9 million in medical debt and prompted changes within both institutions.

“We don’t do this work for awards,” Thomas said, “but it’s always nice to be recognized. The real winners are the thousands of residents who will be spared lawsuits for hospital debt because these stories changed policy.” 

An investigative team of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists won the gold prize for uncovering a massive corrupt global empire operating in dozens of countries.

The silver prize was won by The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles Times for a series that revealed how California risks being stuck with a multi-billion-dollar bill because of deserted oil wells.

“Profiting from the Poor” and Thomas have won several other prestigious awards, including:

  • The 2020 Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting         
  • First place in the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2019 awards for business reporting
  • Tied for first place in the Investigative Reporters & Editors 2019 awards in the print/online division 1
  • A finalist for the 2020 Loeb Awards for business and finance reporting. The awards will be presented in a virtual event on Nov. 12.

Also this week, Thomas came in second place for Best Columnist in the Memphis Flyer’s 2020 Best of Memphis contest.


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