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Sun team wins business writing award

The Baltimore Sun

Three Sun journalists who produced the revelatory series "Crab Factory," which detailed the rise of Asian crabmeat and its effect on Maryland's ailing seafood industry, won a Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial journalism last night.

During a ceremony at a restaurant in New York, reporters Gady A. Epstein and Stephanie Desmon and photographer Chiaki Kawajiri won in the medium-sized newspaper category - those with circulations of 150,000 to 350,000 - for the two-part series, the first article of which ran on April 30, 2006.

The three will share the $2,000 prize, which comes with a plaque and statuettes and is administered by the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Epstein - a former Beijing correspondent who spent a month in Thailand reporting the story - said by phone as the ceremony was concluding that the series "told people in Maryland something they didn't know, and perhaps surprised them, about a food they're proud of, the Maryland crab, and how it's been replaced over the years by crab from Asia and other parts of the world, in large part thanks to a Baltimore-based company."

With a dateline in Donsak, Thailand, the first of the two main articles reported that in the course of 15 years, Phillips Foods turned a foreign blue crab, known in Thailand as "horse crab," into a nearly $300 million-a-year industry, while the business back home was struggling.

"The machinery of globalization has done its work, making Maryland's signature food into an industrialized product, processed and branded as carefully as a Nike basketball shoe," the article read.

"A new breed of crab industrialists - ambitious, opportunistic and well-capitalized - has fueled and profited from this boom. These new entrepreneurs have left behind an old breed of crabbers and pickers, the men and women of the Chesapeake Bay, who can't compete."

From the podium, before an audience of some 300 people, including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Forbes magazine editor-in-chief Steve Forbes, Epstein thanked the two Sun editors most responsible for overseeing the series, former Foreign Editor Robert Ruby and Assistant Managing Editor for Enterprise John Fairhall.

Competing against Epstein, Desmon and Kawajiri in the same category were two other Sun journalists, June Arney and Fred Schulte, authors of "On Shaky Ground," an examination of antiquated ground rent laws in Baltimore that enabled landowners to seize hundreds of homes from people who had fallen behind on payments.

The other finalists in the group were David Olinger, Aldo Svaldi, Greg Griffin and Jeffrey A. Roberts for "Foreclosing on the American Dream," in The Denver Post; Heather Landy for "Radio Shack CEO's Resume in Question," in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram; and Ronnie Greene for "Deadly Express" in The Miami Herald.

Another Sun finalist at the Loeb Awards was business columnist Jay Hancock, in the commentary category.

Hancock's accessible and engaging writing style - frequently spiced with witty barbs - is in evidence in columns such as the one he wrote for the May 28, 2006, paper about how some already highly paid bosses were rigging the exercise price on their options to coincide with extreme lows in their stock.

The idea, Hancock wrote, "is to induce executives to increase the value of the stock, in the same manner that sugar pellets can alter the behavior of lab rats."


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