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Baltimore Sun wins national breaking-news award for coverage of ex-Mayor Pugh’s indictment

File photo: Baltimore Sun Newsroom, Port Covington, Baltimore.
File photo: Baltimore Sun Newsroom, Port Covington, Baltimore. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Sun has won a national breaking-news award for its coverage of ex-Mayor Catherine Pugh’s indictment on fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy charges that she illegally used sales of her self-published children’s books to buy a house, pay down debt and fund her mayoral campaign.

The Al Neuharth Breaking News Reporting Award was awarded Monday to The Sun for “an astonishing job of breaking news reporting built upon a foundation of sources and knowledge gained from its earlier investigation into ... Pugh’s shady business dealings,” the News Leaders Association announced.

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The earlier investigation by Sun reporter Luke Broadwater revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts were awarded by the University of Maryland Medical System to members of its board — including Pugh. The reporting led to the mayor’s resignation, an overhaul of the board and the federal criminal investigation.

When Broadwater and then-Sun reporter Kevin Rector, who left this month for the Los Angeles Times, learned about the grand jury’s 11-count indictment of Pugh before it was announced in November, they “immediately went to work,” the judges wrote.

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Their story broke the news of the indictment and revealed “many details that hadn’t yet been reported — about how the mayor had sold twice as many copies of her children’s book than had ever been printed; used the profits to buy a house, pay down debt, and make illegal donations to her campaign; and claimed income of $31,000 to the IRS in 2016 when she actually made more than $322,000," the judges wrote.

“Their first-day reporting of Pugh’s indictment is a stellar example of accountability reporting under deadline by reporters with unparalleled knowledge of their subject,” they wrote.

It’s the second year in a row The Sun has won the award, which the newspaper shared with The Annapolis Capital last year for their joint coverage of the 2018 Annapolis newsroom shooting.

The recognition is “a testament to the committed work Baltimore Sun Media journalists do each day,” added Sun publisher and editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas.

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“As part of our mission, they work hard to hold our elected officials, local institutions and the people in power who govern them accountable," Alatzas said. “This work showcased our investment in dogged reporting, stellar writing, powerful images and thoughtful editing across our newsroom. The support of our subscribers and advertisers allows us to provide the watchdog journalism our community deserves.”

Following the November indictment, Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison in February. The UMMS board is undergoing a reorganization; members were banned from entering into no-bid contracts; and a state audit was ordered of the hospital system’s contracting practices.

“We’re very appreciative the judges recognized what the small, hard-working team at The Sun was able to accomplish during trying times for our industry,” Broadwater said. “Journalism is often a thankless job, and many days we fall short. But at times you can really make a difference.”

Named for Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, the award recognizes coverage of breaking news produced in the first 24 hours of an event. The staffs of the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle were finalists this year for their coverage of the Christchurch shooting and Northern California wildfires, respectively.

The Sun’s editorial board also was honored as a finalist for editorial writing for its scathing response to President Donald Trump’s criticism last summer of U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and his congressional district, which includes Baltimore.

The editorial board — composed of Peter Jensen, Andrea McDaniels, Tricia Bishop and then-opinion editor Andrew A. Green — was named finalist for the Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership for the editorial “Better to have a few rats than be one.”

Robert Greene, of the Los Angeles Times, won the editorial award for the large division with a series of editorials titled “Criminal Justice in Los Angeles.” Julie K. Brown, Emily Michot and the staff of the Miami Herald won the Batten Medal for Courage in Journalism for their series on Jeffrey Epstein’s sex abuse.

The News Leaders Association recognition is the latest national award The Sun’s reporting has received. Earlier this month, The Sun’s investigative reporting into Pugh’s business dealings won a first-place National Headliner Award. In February, Broadwater and the newspaper’s staff also won the prestigious George Polk Award for political reporting.

The Sun also was a finalist for an award from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. for its articles detailing the fight to keep Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore City and how the track’s owners spent millions of dollars more in grant money on Laurel Park instead.

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