Baltimore Brew wins top MDDC honors in four accountability reporting categories
The Best of Show awards were among the website’s 14 prizes for journalistic excellence in 2022
Above: At Baltimore 2022 Taxpayers’ Night, Sam Snowden gets a fist bump after his plea to city officials to lower his water bill and “just return some phone calls once in a while.” J.M. Giordano’s MDDC award-winning photo.
Baltimore Brew received 14 Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia (MDDC) Press Association prizes for work published in 2022 at a ceremony in Annapolis on Friday.
The Brew’s award-winning work included top honors for reporting in four categories that reflect the website’s focus on accountability journalism.
As “Best of Show” winners in land use reporting, series reporting, election coverage and local government coverage, The Brew’s two-person newsroom was judged against submissions by the region’s major print and online news media, including The Baltimore Sun, The Baltimore Banner, (Delaware) News Journal, Capital Gazette and other organizations.
Two veteran Brew contributors, op-ed writer David Plymyer and photojournalist Joe Giordano, were also honored for their work.
This year’s entries included more than 1,400 submissions across 85 categories. They were judged by the Louisiana Press Association.
Announcing the winners, MDDC Executive Director Rebecca Snyder said the contest is part of the organization’s mission to support and strengthen news organizations, citing the vital role they play in the community.
“We believe a strong news media is central to a strong and open society,” Snyder said.
Best of Show: Land Use Reporting
Taking top honors in this category was a pair of stories by Mark Reutter about the waterfront project, Port Covington, which was granted unprecedented public (TIF) Tax Increment Financing.
Ousted as Port Covington’s developer, Marc Weller leaves behind a $660 million “game changer” in search of occupants (5/19/22) was a look at the much-ballyhooed project whose uncertain future had set off alarm bells at Goldman Sachs, its biggest private investor.
It’s official: Kevin Plank’s Port Covington is rebranded as “Baltimore Peninsula” (11/15/22) again examined the project as its first phase of construction neared completion with few commercial leases in place and new promoters hired to buff it up with a fresh name.
Best of Show: Series Reporting
This winning entry consisted of two stories by Fern Shen and Mark Reutter that uncovered an Annapolis connection to a local controversy.
Community anger grows over planned sale of Grove Park Elementary School to an Ohio nursing home chain (12/20/22) described how city officials favored an out-of-state company over a proud Black neighborhood.
Nursing home company showers Maryland Democrats – and governor-elect Wes Moore – with campaign cash (12/20/22) documented contributions by the company, CommuniCare, ranging from $7,500 to Councilman Yitzy Schleifer to $223,000 to state elected officials, candidates and political parties, including $59,000 to then-governor-elect Wes Moore.
Best of Show: Election Coverage
These stories, again by Mark Reutter, were the result of detailed investigative reporting ahead of the 2022 primary.
The stories came out of a close reading of the campaign contribution reports of then-Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby.
Reutter uncovered payments of nearly $50,000 from Marilyn Mosby’s campaign account to lawyers defending her as she faced a federal criminal probe – this despite Maryland law prohibiting such expenditures.
Other reporting by Reutter in the run-up to the election documented campaign payments made in the name of Prescott Thompson, Marilyn Mosby’s grandfather, written after his death.
Marilyn Mosby used campaign funds to pay her defense attorneys (1/20/22)
Giving from the grave? Marilyn Mosby’s dead grandfather contributed to her and her husband’s campaigns (3/23/22)
Mosbys say they mistakenly listed deceased grandfather as campaign contributor (3/24/22)
Documents related to the “ghost” contributions from Marilyn Mosby’s dead grandfather (3/25/22)
Marilyn Mosby amends report that falsely attributed contribution to her dead grandfather (3/30/22)
Best of Show: Local Government
Northeast Baltimore residents have for years been lobbying for, debating and holding lengthy meetings about replacing the aging Harford Road Bridge with a broader, stronger and safer structure.
In 2022, they finally got their wish.
But after the bridge, costing considerably more than originally bid, was opened to traffic, a much anticipated pedestrian tunnel had residents scratching their heads.
On the south side of the bridge, the path ended abruptly in front of a steep, weed-choked embankment. Joggers and women pushing strollers found themselves backtracking through a graffiti-tagged passageway or clambering past odd boulder piles.
How did this happen? Mark Reutter dug into the details.
Welcome to “The underpass to nowhere” 20 years after it was planned (11/28/22)
Local Column: Critical Thinking – First Place, David A. Plymyer
In 2022, City Council President Nick Mosby introduced a pension bill, pushing it through the legislative process with urgency. It would have slashed from 12 to 8 the years of service required for current and future elected officials to vest in the right to receive pension benefits at age 55.
Supporters said it was a nod to fairness in light of the recently approved charter amendment, Question K, that set term limits for local elected officials. Plymyer, the former Anne Arundel County Attorney, honed in on the real reason:
“Its primary intent was to protect certain members of the Council, including Mosby, from loss of future pension benefits if they lose at the polls before vesting in those benefits,” he wrote. “It also appeared to target Mayor Brandon Scott for a dramatic reduction of his future pension benefits.”
Close reading of Mosby’s pension bill shows it could benefit him and hurt Scott (11/21/22)
Breaking News: First Place, Fern Shen
A showdown loomed at a homeless person’s encampment under the Jones Falls Expressway: police were going to clear the encampment at midnight.
The Brew was there to chronicle the moment, including what happened after one encampment dweller poured gasoline around his tent, went inside and lit a cigarette. As our video showed, officers moved in, shot him with tasers and tackled him to the ground – one of them kicking the cigarette out of the way.
Homeless camp clearing ends with splashed gas, a flame and a tasing (10/9/22)
General News Photo: First Place, J.M. Giordano
As they have for years at the Annual Taxpayers Night, residents pleaded with Baltimore officials to cut the police budget and shift funding to jobs, housing, health care, education, substance abuse treatment and other needs.
One man described his thought process after being held up at gunpoint a few months earlier, robbed “down to my shoes and socks.”
“Policing does not make us safer,” he said. “Those guys that robbed me – the police came after the fact.”
The man Giordano depicted [above] in his winning photograph from that night had his own modest ask: he pleaded for officials to lower his water bill and “just return some phone calls once in a while.”
Photo Series: First Place, J.M. Giordano, Fern Shen
The rally, which took place in the far South Baltimore community of Curtis Bay, was held to mark a grim anniversary:
Nearly a year had passed since an explosion at the CSX coal terminal sent terrified residents diving to the floor as windows shattered and black soot rained down on their streets and cars.
Shen’s photos captured the determination of the marchers that day. Giordano’s, taken over multiple visits, conveyed the long-term toll it taken on residents living so close to a fading, but still dangerous, industrial waterfront.
After a century of industrial accidents and toxic exposures, Curtis Bay residents say they’ve had enough (12/5/22)
Land Use Reporting: Second Place, Mark Reutter
In this analysis piece, Mark Reutter pointed out the mixed message from City Hall as a headline-grabbing document was released.
The Bureau of the Budget and Management Research released a report saying the city should cap and even curtail overly generous tax breaks to developers.
At the same time, Mayor Brandon Scott and the City Council were expanding and lengthening the life of some of city government’s biggest subsidies.
How did elected officials explain the breaks, which the budget office said were much more generous than those extended by other Maryland jurisdictions? Trickle-down economics, Reutter explained.
Mayor and City Council are sweetening developer tax credits that are already out of control, budget office says (8/15/22)
Other Divisional Wins
Fern Shen and Mark Reutter: “Community anger – and loads of campaign cash – as a former city school goes up for sale,” First Place in Series.
Mark Reutter: “Giving from the grave, paying lawyers with campaign funds,” First Place in Investigative Reporting.
Mark Reutter: “Welcome to ‘The underpass to nowhere’ 20 years after it was planned,” First Place in Local Government.
Mark Reutter: “Giving from the grave, paying lawyers with campaign funds,” First Place Election Coverage.
Mark Reutter: “Field of Dreams” (Port Covington stories), First Place in Growth & Land Use Reporting.