Prize winners Dave Barry won a Pulitzer Prize (in part) for a column in which he commiserated with readers about long, serious stories they might feel guilty not reading. He suggested those stories have a note at the top: "Caution: Journalism prize entry! Do not read!"
I don't think we needed that warning on any of the stories, columns, photographs, special sections or page designs that won 17 national, regional and state awards last year. They weren't just for long, serious stories--they were also for our wine, food and Latin music columns, for our fashion and Annual Manual issues, and for our redesign (you can see the whole list on page 16). But the prize-winners also included longer stories that shone a light on important issues--problems at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, our archaic copyright system, right-wing assaults on the University of North Carolina, and the big-money special interests behind then-U.S. Senate candidate Richard Burr.
The Burr story was by Jennifer Strom, who also did this week's investigation into a powerful and obscure state board dominated by business interests that's undoing the efforts of our legislators and state staff to protect us from polluted water, overworked pharmacists and injurious office equipment. In her six months looking into the Rules Review Commission, Strom found that an overwhelming majority of its members have ties to business and special interests--particularly the growth industry.
It's an outrageous tale of how business interests and top legislators conspired to take control of the state's rule-making ability--and succeeded. If it sounds unconstitutional, it very well may be; the N.C. Court of Appeals is deciding that now. And a Wake Superior Court judge determined last month the board overstepped its authority when it vetoed stormwater pollution regulations that developers didn't want. It's a classic tale of how money trumps the public interest. In this case, business interests got veto power over the state's rule-making functions and packed the board with corporate lawyers, bankers and political insiders. There's not a single member who could remotely be said to represent us.
Think there's something wrong with that? Contact Senate President Marc Basnight (733-6854, Marcb@ncleg.net) and House Speaker Jim Black (733-3451, Jimb@ncleg.net), who appoint the board's members, and let them know.
And we hope you take the time to read the story. You won't be disappointed, even if it does happen to win a prize.