The Oregonian/OregonLive Wins 2020 John B. Oakes Award for Outstanding Environmental Reporting | Columbia Journalism School

The Oregonian/OregonLive Wins 2020 John B. Oakes Award for Outstanding Environmental Reporting

The Oregonian/OregonLive has won the 2020 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for its compelling and impactful series “Polluted by Money." Sometimes the best journalism exposes conduct that’s legal — yet so wrong. Journalist Rob Davis took a close look at the state’s laws allowing people and corporations to give political candidates unlimited donations. That has made Oregon number one in the U.S. among corporate political giving per capita. Davis then showed the stranglehold that corporate money has on policy, especially environmental policy — made more curious in such a liberal state now suffering a backlog of environmental protections. Davis also found compelling human stories to show the harm to regular citizens. “Polluted by Money” hit like an earthquake. Limits in the state’s biggest county and city went into effect. Courts are taking action. And voters statewide will decide this November whether limits expand statewide.

Two Finalists for the 2020 Oakes Award are: Los Angeles Times for “American Fallout” and The Washington Post for “2°C: Beyond the Limit."

  • American Fallout” effectively joins the two greatest threats to the planet, climate change colliding with nuclear devastation. Reporters Susanne Rust, Carolyn Cole, Ali Raj and Lorena Iniguez Elebee clearly outline the next great tragedy about to occur in the Marshall Islands by the American government. The team framed an old story anew and advanced it in enraging detail: the price inhabitants of those atolls have paid and the even higher price they are about to pay. Passionately written and stunningly presented, this series is truly exemplary and represents the finest environmental reporting. 
  • In “2°C: Beyond the Limit," a team of Washington Post journalists mapped locations around the planet that have already exceeded the existential threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord. In a revelatory series, they documented the consequences in searing text, data and visuals: Mass clam die-offs from a 130,000 square-mile mass of super-warming ocean off Uruguay. Underwater fields of kelp, cooked by the heat off the Australian coast. The judges commend the team of journalists for their ground-breaking, indelible work and The Washington Post for its significant investment of staff and resources. 

The 2020 Oakes Award winners and finalists will be honored with a virtual celebration and conversation on Mon., Sept. 21. The Oregonian/OregonLive will receive a $5,000 honorarium, and each finalist will receive a $1500 honorarium. 

Given annually for news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public’s understanding of environmental issues, the Oakes Award was founded in 1993 by family, friends and colleagues of John B. Oakes (1913-2001). Oakes was an environmental journalism pioneer and an editorial writer for The New York Times.

 

2020 John B. Oakes Prize Winner and Finalist Citations

box of file folders with labels reading "Complaints"
Some of the more than 1,300 complaints filed against the AmeriTies rail tie manufacturing plant in The Dalles, Oregon. Rob Davis/The Oregonian

WINNER: The Oregonian/OregonLive 

Polluted by Money 

Journalist: Rob Davis

Judges Citation: Sometimes the best journalism exposes conduct that’s legal — yet so wrong. Journalist Rob Davis of The Oregonian/OregonLive got his arms around the state’s laws allowing people and corporations to give political candidates as much as they want, with no limits. That has made Oregon number one in the U.S. among corporate political giving per capita. Davis then showed the stranglehold that corporate money has on policy, especially environmental policy — made more curious in such a liberal state now suffering a backlog of environmental protections. 

Davis also found compelling human stories to show the little guy losing out. His document hunt exposed lobbyists basically telling lawmakers what to do and say, while privately demeaning public hearings as “bitch sessions.” “Polluted by Money” hit like an earthquake. Limits in the state’s biggest county and city went into effect. Courts are taking action. And voters statewide will decide this November whether limits expand statewide.

Marshall Islands
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

FINALIST: Los Angeles Times 

American Fallout 

Journalists: Susanne Rust, Carolyn Cole, Ali Raj and Lorena Iniguez Elebee

Judges Citation: “American Fallout” effectively joins the two greatest threats to the planet, climate change colliding with nuclear devastation, and clearly outlines the next great tragedy about to occur in the Marshall Islands at the hands of the American government. The authors framed an old story anew and advanced it in enraging detail:  the price inhabitants of those atolls have paid and the even higher price they are about to pay. They analyzed thousands of historical and scientific documents; reviewed medical records and photographs; they built databases of cancer rates in the Marshall Islands, recreated timelines and maps of nuclear bomb detonations and reconstructed the design and engineering of one of the world’s most notorious and fragile radioactive nuclear waste-dumps. Passionately written, stunningly presented with strong and informative photos, graphics and design, this series is truly exemplary and represents the finest environmental reporting.

beach covered in wood debris
Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

FINALIST: The Washington Post

2°C: Beyond the Limit 

Journalists: Staff of The Washington Post

Judges Citation: International leaders at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord agreed on the urgent need to keep the earth’s average temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius over the next century. Four years later, a team of Washington Post journalists mapped places around the planet that have already exceeded that existential threshold. In a revelatory series, they documented the consequences in searing text, data and visuals: Mass clam die-offs from a 130,000 square-mile expanse of super-warming ocean off Uruguay. Underwater fields of kelp, cooked by the heat off the Australian coast. Mammoth bones, buried for thousands of years, resurfacing in Siberia’s melting permafrost. The judges commend the team of journalists for their ground-breaking, indelible work and The Washington Post for its significant investment of staff and resources to bring important new information to light.

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For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers Masters of Science, Masters of Arts, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and Doctor of Philosophy in Communications.  It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Award. Journalism.columbia.edu
 

 

Contact:
Abi Wright
Executive Director, Professional Prizes
212.854.5047
awright@columbia.edu