Reuters Journalist, Lisa Girion, Named as the Inaugural Winner of Columbia Journalism School’s WERT Prize for Outstanding Global Business Journalism
The Knight-Bagehot Fellowships in Economics and Business at Columbia University has named Lisa Girion of Reuters as the inaugural recipient of the WERT Prize, dedicated to honoring excellence in business reporting and writing by a woman journalist.
Girion’s winning work “Powder Keg” is a deeply reported investigation into Johnson and Johnson’s extensive knowledge of the existence of asbestos in its baby powder.
The finalists for the prize this year included Vivienne Walt of Fortune magazine for “Blood, Sweat and Batteries” and Megha Rajagopalan of Buzzfeed for “We Had To Stop Facebook: When Anti-Muslim Violence Goes Viral.”
The award will be presented on October 16 at the 44th Knight-Bagehot Anniversary Dinner in New York.
“We are excited to honor and recognize the winner of this year’s WERT Prize. Lisa’s compelling business journalism in the public interest embodies the spirit of the award, and we hope her work, along with those of the two finalists, inspires more gender diversity in the field, a main goal for this new prize,” said Raju Narisetti, director of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowships.
Girion will receive $4,000 in the inaugural year, which also includes a one-time honorarium from the Muriel Siebert Foundation to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Economic Round Table.
Lisa Girion joined the Los Angeles bureau of Reuters as a Top News Editor in January 2016 after 16 years at the Los Angeles Times, where she also produced major multimedia stories on the intersection of government, commerce, health and welfare.
The WERT Prize Jurors this year included eminent journalism leaders representing major global news organizations. They were Rebecca Blumenstein, Stephanie Mehta, Barkha Dutt, Michelle Holmes, Kevin Delaney, Sandy Sugawara and Kimi Yoshino.
WERT Prize Winner Jurors’ Citation:
We are proud to award Lisa Girion of Reuters the WERT Prize. Girion’s investigative piece is by far the most ambitious and high-impact project submitted—and earns points for utter fearlessness. This story explored the company’s lack of oversight and liability from all major angles including legal, regulatory and operational. She exposed a corporate culture of fear and coverups, and told the deeply personal story of one victim. There had been some coverage of Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder problem previously, but it wasn’t until Girion’s deep dive into the cases that the public understood the full scope of the company’s knowledge of the potential risks of its product. Girion obtained and reviewed decades-old company records, memos and reports to weave a compelling and damning portrait of a company that has known for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos and worked to downplay - and even cover-up through omission - internal red flags.
In addition to Girion, the jurors also cited two finalists. Megha Rajagopalan of Buzzfeed for her comprehensive and eye-opening report on Facebook’s role in the rise of anti-muslim hate groups and violence in Sri Lanka. While the issues with Facebook in Myanmar are better known, the Sri Lanka ones are just as troubling, and Megha’s indisputable reporting in “We Had To Stop Facebook: When Anti-Muslim Violence Goes Viral,” documents them vividly.
Vivienne Walt of Fortune magazine was also cited for “Blood, Sweat and Batteries.” Her investigation into Cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo does the best job of connecting the activities in one of the world’s poorest countries with the multibillion dollar global companies that benefit from these local suppliers. The report also acknowledges the complexities of supporting “artisanal suppliers” and if large corporations that buy cobalt were to sever ties with the artisanal suppliers altogether, the negative impact on local laborers would also be immediate.
The inaugural WERT Prize received dozens of submissions from newsrooms across three continents. Application window for the $2,000 annual Prize in 2020 will open in January, and run through March 15, 2020. https://journalism.columbia.edu/wert
To attend the award ceremony at the 44th Knight-Bagehot Anniversary Dinner on October 16 in New York, which raises funds for the Fellowship, please visit: https://journalism.columbia.edu/save-date
About Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the Columbia Journalism 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 in 1912 and offers Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science in Data Journalism, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights 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, the Mike Berger Awards and the WERT Prize for Women Business Journalists. Journalism.columbia.edu
Chantal De Soto