The $25,000 prize honors journalism that advocates the ethical practice of politics, just and effective governance and the well-reasoned formation of public policy.
The six entries to advance into this year’s finals come from an array of publications and broadcasting stations, both local and national.
These stories unearth examples of corruption and misconduct, especially the exploitation of government offices and needless secrecy in businesses and organizations.
The Los Angeles Times’ finalists, reporters Chuck Neubauer, Richard T. Cooper and Judy Pasternack, exposed instances of “relative lobbying” in Congress, where Senators and Representatives promoted the interests of firms who employed their children as lobbyists and consultants.
The reporters were fist tipped off when they found that “in a number of cases, there were special issues that fathers in the Senate supported for years,” according to Neubauer.
Since the publication of this series, many lawmakers have adopted more stringent limits on who is allowed to lobby them.
Another pair of finalists, Phil Williams and Bryan Staples of WTVF-TV Nashville, addressed a similar problem in Tennessee state politics.
The duo produced three documentaries and over 60 news reports challenging the ethical conduct of state officials, including accusations that the governor illegally fed contracts to his friends.
“It began as a matter of curiosity,” Williams said. “I was curious to know who was benefiting from Tennessee’s tax dollars. Unfortunately, the people who benefit most are the ones who write the laws.”
The airing of their reports, entitled “Friends in High Places,” led to federal and state criminal investigations as well as legislation on contract reform.
On a more international scale, finalists Russell Carollo and Mei-Ling Hopgood of the Dayton Daily News wrote a series entitled “Casualties of Peace” which examined safety in the Peace Corps.
A contentious 20-month investigation revealed that the number of assaults on Peace Corps volunteers, including several deaths, has doubled since 1991—a fact that the Peace Corps concealed from its current volunteers.
This excessive secrecy has kept the families of missing and deceased Peace Corps volunteers in the dark about the fates of their relatives.
“The greatest satisfaction I’ve had is to provide families with information about their loved ones,” Carollo said.
In reflecting on their criticism of the Corps, however, the reporters were careful not to impugn the Corps’ goals.
“We were not questioning the mission of Americans helping other countries—that is a noble idea. But it’s about time someone kept track of how they’re doing it,” Hopgood said.
Other finalists include David Barstow of The New York Times and Lowell Bergman of Frontline for their report on the possibility that businesses are killing their workers by disregarding safety laws, and Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway of the Washington Post for investigating the questionable land purchases of the Nature Conservancy.
The list of finalists is rounded out by the staff of the Gannett New Jersey Newspapers for their work in exposing lawmakers who made millions by exploiting their public service jobs.
The winner of the Goldsmith Prize will be announced on March 17 at the Kennedy School of Government.