National Newspaper Award in Business category upheld after investigation into complaint

TORONTO, May 26, 2021 – The National Newspaper Awards has received and ruled on a complaint asking that this year’s award in the Business category be reconsidered based on a claim by the complainant that the winning entry had used another journalist’s work without credit.

A panel formed to adjudicate the matter decided there are no grounds to support the complaint that the Toronto Star had used information gathered by a freelance journalist, and accordingly the award will stand.

This report outlines the situation that led to this decision.

On May 7, 2021, winners of the 22 categories for the 2020 awards competition were announced. The Business category was won by Kenyon Wallace, Marco Chown Oved, Ed Tubb and Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star, for reports showing that death rates from COVID-19 were higher in for-profit homes than in other types of long-term care residences.

Following that announcement, many Twitter users sent tweets expressing concern that the work done by the Star’s journalists had made use of research done by a writer and activist, Nora Loreto, without credit. Ms. Loreto has done substantial reporting on COVID-19 deaths in care facilities over the past 15 months. She has compiled a database and published updated data daily, in a spreadsheet available through her Twitter account, @nolore.

In response to the Star’s win and some of the tweets expressing concern, Ms. Loreto sent tweets asserting that the Star had not plagiarized her work, while expressing concern that important work by freelance journalists often gets overlooked while similar work by large news organizations gets rewarded.

On May 11, the NNAs received a written complaint from Jacqui Gingras, an associate professor in sociology at Ryerson University. Ms. Gingras’s note said the Star knowingly included data that had been gathered by Ms. Loreto, without crediting her. The complaint further stated: “The issue is that the labour of a freelance journalist was used without attribution and then the published authors received a national award for said work.”

In accordance with our established policy and procedure for handling complaints and concerns about entries, a panel comprising two NNA Governors and one Officer (none of whom are affiliated with the organization that submitted the entry) was formed. The panel comprised Brent Jolly (the Canadian Association of Journalists representative on the Board of Governors), Doug Richardson (an officer of the corporation governing the NNAs, and the organization’s treasurer) and Scott White (an “at-large” member of the NNA Board).

Before convening to adjudicate this matter, the panel received a report from NNA Executive Director Paul Woods. That report included:

  • The written complaint
  • A sampling of comments on social media about the award, including some tweets posted by Ms. Loreto
  • Comments Mr. Woods received directly from Ms. Loreto during a discussion with her
  • Comments Mr. Woods received from representatives of the Star (Senior Vice President Editorial Wayne Parrish; Editor Anne Marie Owens; and Public Editor Bruce Campion-Smith) during a discussion with them
  • A written statement provided by the Star

The Star representatives and Ms. Loreto provided information the review committee found helpful in its deliberations.

The Star’s representatives were asked when the paper’s reporters had become aware of work Ms. Loreto had been doing to track COVID-19 deaths in long-term-care facilities, and whether any of her reporting or database were used in any way, directly or indirectly, as part of the Star’s reporting that was submitted in the Business category. Ms. Loreto was asked whether she believed any of the work published by the Star and submitted as part of its entry was based on her database and/or reporting.

Based on the information it received, the panel concluded that while both the Star and Ms. Loreto had built databases of COVID deaths at long-term-care facilities, there was no evidence the Star had incorporated information from Ms. Loreto’s database into its own. The panel accepted the Star’s statement that it had built its database independently and without consulting any of the other, similar databases that were built by other individuals and news organizations over the past year, and that work on its database had begun before the Star was aware of Ms. Loreto’s database. The panel also accepted the Star’s statement that some of the work included in the award-winning entry was based on data compiled by the Star in its database but not included in Ms. Loreto’s database.

The panel also noted that Ms. Loreto herself did not claim the Star had used her database in any of the articles that were part of the paper’s entry in the Business category.

The panel took note of Ms. Loreto’s expression of frustration that individuals working on a freelance basis – and in cases like hers, publishing work independently – may not be able to compete for awards against large news organizations. The panel is recommending that the NNA Board of Governors consider this issue during its annual review of rules and eligibility, especially in light of the Board’s commitment to making the awards program more inclusive.

 

For more information, contact:

Paul Woods
Executive Director
National Newspaper Awards
exec@nna-ccj.ca
905-719-8675