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Times receives George Polk Award for coverage of Bell scandal

The newspaper's stories, which won for local reporting, led to criminal charges against eight current and former city officials and sparked legislative reform efforts aimed at public pay and pension abuses.

February 22, 2011|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times has won a George Polk Award, one of journalism's top honors, for exposing officials' exorbitant salaries and financial misdeeds in the small working-class town of Bell.

Polk Awards: An article in the Feb. 22 LATExtra section about the Los Angeles Times' winning a George Polk Award for its coverage of the city of Bell incorrectly referred to the American Society of News Editors by its former name, the American Society of Newspaper Editors. —

Spearheaded by staff writers Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, coverage of the Bell scandal involved more than two dozen reporters and editors and led to criminal charges against eight current and former city officials, as well as millions of dollars in tax refunds to residents.

The Times' stories, which won for local reporting, also sparked legislative reform efforts aimed at public pay and pension abuses, including a bill that would require California's city, county and schools officials to disclose their compensation online.

"This story connected with readers not just in Southern California, but across the nation," said Times Editor Russ Stanton. "It is about regular people who are struggling under a crippling recession while their elected representatives were living high on the hog. And our coverage reaffirms the value that a free press provides in a democratic society."

The Polk Awards are named for the CBS correspondent who was slain while covering the civil war in Greece in 1948. They were announced by Long Island University, which administers them.

Last week, The Times' Bell coverage received the American Society of Newspaper Editors' distinguished writing award for local accountability reporting.

The New York Times and the nonprofit investigative reporting organization Pro Publica each won two Polk Awards. The Associated Press, Rolling Stone magazine, the Washington Post, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., Bloomberg News and the New York Daily News received one apiece.

The New York Times was cited for its coverage of Russia and Afghanistan in the categories of foreign reporting and military reporting, respectively.

Pro Publica garnered radio and television reporting awards for two joint projects: an investigation, with National Public Radio, into the treatment of soldiers with brain injuries; and an investigation, with PBS' "Frontline" and the Times-Picayune newspaper, of the New Orleans Police Department.

The Associated Press received the environmental reporting award for its coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Rolling Stone won in magazine reporting for Michael Hastings' profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, who was fired by President Obama after the magazine recounted disparaging remarks he and his staff made about the administration.

Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, was honored with the George Polk Career Award.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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