In a memo with “The Greatest Prize” in the subject line, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson reminds his staff of “the profound impact of our enterprise journalism in the past year.” The word Pulitzer isn’t mentioned. || Earlier: Wall Street Journal shut out of Pulitzers — again. || Read Thomson’s memo after the jump.
From: Thomson, Robert
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2011 10:20 AM
To: WSJ All News Staff
Subject: The Greatest Prize
It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider the profound impact of our enterprise journalism in the past year. There were many examples of institutional infelicities and underdone oversight exposed, and necessary reforms being prompted by excellent, sustained reporting. That crucial role was both global and national, as a few examples will highlight:
* Our online privacy series, “What They Know”, detailed the alarmingly pervasive practice of tracking American consumers online, and triggered significant steps to combat abuses:
1) Senate bill. The series prompted a major bipartisan bill sponsored by John McCain and John Kerry calling for a “privacy Bill of Rights” for Americans. It was a direct response to our work, as the senators made clear in introducing the bill, with Senator McCain reading from a What They Know article at the press conference.
2) House bill. The series also prompted a bipartisan privacy bill in the House, introduced by Cliff Stearns (R, Fla.) and Utah Democrat Jim Matheson, that encouraged companies to offer more information to consumers about how they are being tracked. The bill also called for the data-collection industry to develop a policing program that would be approved by the Federal Trade Commission.
3) The series has echoed through the advertising and tech industries, with industry groups toughening privacy codes and dozens of businesses changing basic practices. Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla have all moved to install robust new privacy features in their browsers in direct response to our report of Microsoft’s quashing of a privacy feature at the behest of advertisers.
* Our Medicare series, “Secrets of the System”, used sophisticated computer-assisted reporting to expose fraud and medical malpractice in the Medicare system, triggering legislation and investigations:
1) The series was the catalyst for legislation that enhanced the public’s ability to fight fraud and abuse in the $500-billion-a-year Medicare system: a bill was introduced in the Senate to unlock the Medicare billing data base to public scrutiny, in direct response to our stories. The bipartisan Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act, or DATA Act, was introduced this month by Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Charles Grassley (R., Iowa). It was inspired by the WSJ series, cited by Sen. Grassley in his introduction to the bill. Sen. Wyden said “hiding” the data was “indefensible in a free society”.
2) The series has spurred major investigations of fraud and malpractice. Two doctors tracked by the Journal have been investigated by Federal authorities for alleged fraud. A doctor profiled this month has had his operating privileges revoked and is the subject of further investigations.
3) The Journal is pursuing a court case seeking to overturn the 1979 injunction which bars public access to the Medicare data.
*Our BP oil-spill coverage had a remarkable impact on the response to the crisis and long-term energy policy:
1) A story revealing how the Minerals Management Service had ceded oversight of the offshore drilling industry to the drillers led to the agency’s breakup.
2) Our prompt investigation of the causes of the rig disaster was the road map for the official investigators, with the Journal’s work being repeatedly cited by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The coverage of Japan’s multiple tragedies and the ongoing nuclear-power disaster is following the same pattern of excellence, with three major world exclusives thus far on the antecedents of the crisis, including a report that exposed the lack of safety planning and equipment at the Fukushima plant.
+Our coverage of the European Debt Crisis was far superior to that of any other international news organization.
In addition to the scoopy and beautifully, lyrically written “Europe on the Brink” narratives, we had major news exclusives exposing the weakness of Europe’s bank stress tests and investigations of European government balance sheets that influenced the handling of the crisis.
* Congressional expenses – our series of reports on Congress members’ travel spending spawned a change in House travel rules: House leaders revamped the guidelines for lawmakers and aides who travel overseas on official government business at taxpayer expense, forbidding them business class on shorter trips and banning the pocketing of unspent cash, among other changes. These changes were the first significant overhaul of the House’s travel rules in more than 30 years. They came after The Wall Street Journal published a series of articles documenting the perks of congressional travel and uncovering bipartisan abuses.
* Libor coverage – since 2008, Journal reporters have been probing the alleged manipulation of the Libor interest-rate standard. U.S. investigators are now examining whether some of the world’s biggest banks colluded to manipulate that rate before and during the financial crisis, affecting trillions of dollars in loans and derivatives. The investigators are looking into whether the banks effectively formed a cartel and distorted global borrowing costs between 2006 and 2008.
And 2011 will bring even more ambitious coverage. We have already begun several major series of enterprise work -not to mention the continuation of the Medicare magnum opus – and will be rolling out more projects in coming weeks and months. We should all celebrate work that has been far ahead of the competition and far-reaching in its efficacy,