Presented by The Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters and Media Editors, this year’s award honored News Editor Nathan Baker and Staff Writer Zach Vance for in-depth public affairs reporting regarding tax-incentive packages for business development.
“Nothing is more important for newspapers than keeping an eye on taxpayer dollars and the public purse,” the judges wrote in their assessment. “The newspaper used public records to uncover irregularities that resulted in changes in incentive programs.”
For more than three years, the Press has maintained watch over the payment in lieu of tax, or PILOT, agreements between local governments, economic development agencies and businesses. In part using public records requests, the 2017 efforts focused on NN Inc., a major manufacturer that was incentivized, and other industries with plants in Washington County.
“Maintaining watch over government and its finances is a central mission for the Johnson City Press,” said Justin Wilcox, Northeast Tennessee Media Group president and Johnson City Press publisher. “Our staff dedicates considerable time and resources to investigating areas of public interest, including the examination of public records.
“The work of our staff on the PILOT program has been key in holding local government to a standard. The Malcolm Law Award recognizes the importance of those efforts.”
The Press’ findings led to increased scrutiny from elected officials and changes in the PILOT agreements and the way governments do business. Ultimately, NN Inc. sold some of its regional interests and moved its headquarters from Johnson City despite the incentives. The Press’ team probed those decisions in depth and continued to maintain scrutiny over the PILOT program.
Co-sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University’s School of Journalism, the annual TAPBME awards recognized journalists from newspapers, radio stations and television stations across the state at the awards ceremony Saturday in Nashville.
Baker also received first place in the awards for his business coverage, again regarding NN Inc. Press Staff Writer Sue Guinn Legg received second place in feature photography for her image from the opening of the Boundless Playground splash pad at Rotary Park. Senior Reporter Robert Houk received second place for editorials.
In 2017, the Press earned the Malcolm Law with its five-day, 18-article series about substance abuse addiction, “The Opioid War.”
The Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Reporting was established in 1973 to honor Malcolm Law, associate editor of The Jackson Sun, who died in December 1972.
The Press’ partners in Northeast Tennessee Media Group at the Kingsport Times News also were honored on Saturday. Contributing writer Ted Como, the Times News’ retired managing editor, received first place for editorials, and Staff Writer Jeff Bobo received second place in photojournalism.