I care less about the Pulitzer Prize than I do about the Personal Finance Reporting Awards.
In an era where the term “fake news” has become the default reply to any fact that doesn’t fit someone’s opinion, it’s important to remember that journalists cover more than just politics.
While the Pulitzer Prize is the news media’s most prestigious award, I want to draw some attention to the little-known 2020 Excellence in Personal Finance Reporting Awards (PFRA) in radio, television and digital journalism. Why? Because as a CPA who tries mightily to help people get out of debt, these are the stories that move me every year.
It’s time to share the latest winners with others, in hopes they move you, too.
How the awards work
Earlier this month, the PFRA winners were announced by The Radio Television Digital News Association. RTDNA is the world’s largest professional organization dedicated exclusively to digital and broadcast journalism. So naturally, all the winners are broadcasters.
This is important, because these days, Americans watch more than they read. RTDNA partners with the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEDE) and this year recognized one winner in each category of radio, TV, and digital.
Why do this? Because RTDNA and NEDE want journalists to “creatively approach their reporting and make comprehensive topics more digestible to viewers and listeners.” It’s so important – especially these days – for Americans to understand their finances that each winner receives $1,000.
The radio winner
The University of Nebraska hosts both PBS and NPR stations, and its report – called Nebraska Schools Tackle Financial Literacy – is one of those rare good-news stories.
As of 2020, only 21 states require high school students to take financial education courses. Nebraska doesn’t have a state mandate, but reporter Brandon McDermott opened his broadcast like this: “About 60 percent of Nebraska students get mandatory lessons on managing personal finances. The state ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to financial literacy nationally.”
So where’s the good news? Even with that middle-of-the-pack ranking, McDermott was able to show, “Students who participated in this program, once they’re in high school, they’re more likely to be banked, have jobs while in high school and they’re saving at higher rates than students who did not participate.”
For years, I’ve lobbied for high schoolers to learn about personal finances. Many other financial experts have done the same. If more journalists do what McDermott did, then we’ll have ample proof to show school boards and parents.
The television winner
When 70-year-old Vietnam veteran Rodney Andrews received a water bill from the City of Chicago for more than $10,000 – for a house he’d never lived in – Brad Edwards and the WBBM-TV news team investigated his complaint.
What they found: A deeply flawed system with regressive and chaotic billing practices. Edwards’ and his team’s investigation prompted the city to cut Andrews’ bill by 70 percent and exposed deep and costly flaws in Chicago’s water billing system.
The report was creatively called Getting Hosed: Chicago Water, a Bungled Bureaucracy. Investigation like these don’t get the same attention as revelations about political shenanigans, but they’re much more important to the bottom lines of most Americans.
In fact, journalism is often like politics: Polls show we hate Congress but like our own Congressional members. Likewise, it’s easy to yell “fake news,” but your own local reporters are probably saving you money right now by exposing bad business and government practices.
The digital winner
It took four Forbes journalists to nail down this story: The Inside Story of Robinhood’s Billionaire Founders, Option Kid Cowboys and the Wall Street Sharks that Feed on Them.
They investigated the disturbing tale of Alex Kearns, a 20-year-old college student whose tragic death was linked to a popular stock-trading app called Robinhood. Kearns committed suicide in June 2020, just 13 hours after checking his Robinhood account and learning he’d lost more than $700,000.
The Forbes team investigated Robinhood’s business model and trading culture, which some observers believe caused Kearns to misunderstand how trading worked. The long yet easy-to-read and impeccably designed story is the most viewed in the history of Forbes.com, with nearly 18 million views.
Two days after it was published, Robinhood announced plans to educate the app’s users on stock options and improve the user interface.
I’m a CPA not a journalist, but in my humble opinion, this story should win a Pulitzer Prize.
Published by Debt.com, LLC