Columbia Journalism School

2006 Chancellor Award Winner - Henry Weinstein


Veteran Los Angeles Times Reporter Henry Weinstein Wins 2006 John Chancellor Award

Award a bright moment in a time of great turbulence in LA Times newsroom

In a career spanning almost 30 years at the Los Angeles Times, Henry Weinstein reported on some of the most talked-about stories in the history of the newspaper. With a lawyer's training and a journalist's passion, Weinstein covered criminal justice cases, labor disputes, and housing fraud in groundbreaking reporting that was celebrated on November 14, 2006 when he was presented with the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism at a black tie gala  in Columbia University's Low Memorial Library.

Weinstein said, "This is a peculiar moment for me. The joy in being honored with the John Chancellor Award regrettably is tempered by the storm clouds hovering over my newspaper and the broader world of journalism. At the moment there is a bidding war over the Tribune Company, which has owned the Los Angeles Times since 2000. This is a kind of surreal experience. In between reporting stories, people in the newsroom chat about whether they would prefer to be owned by a venerable Chicago-based newspaper company, the huge Gannett chain, an East Coast investment firm or one of three Los Angeles billionaires who have said they want to buy the company. All three have occasionally been the subject of critical coverage in our paper. I am not taking a position on who ought to win, but I will certainly take a position on the kind of owner we desire. We want an owner who will invest in the paper and engage in real efforts to make it grow and prosper. When I was a labor writer in the 1980's, I wrote about disinvestments and I learned something from that experience: disinvestment does not provide the road to success for a corporation, its employees or its shareholders."

The $25,000 annual John Chancellor Award, administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, recognizes and rewards a journalist whose reporting over time shows courage, integrity, curiosity and intelligence. Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Journalism School, said, "Henry Weinstein personifies the John Chancellor Award. His cumulative work is a study in journalistic commitment and a genuine love of reporting. He has covered corruption, unearthed incompetence and exposed injustice with clarity, precision and heart."

Weinstein's body of work is a monument to the importance of journalism in a free society, and the need for journalists who have the persistence and skill to dig into complex issues and lay them bare for the public. Among his most memorable reports is a 1979 series of articles on housing loan fraud in Los Angeles that detailed how more than a thousand families lost their homes to swindlers. In 1982 he exposed the city's worst slumlord in a series of reports that led to changes in court procedures, enforcement of local laws, and a prison term for the slumlord. More recently he wrote about a murder trial in which the defendant's lawyer slept through much of the proceedings, and his reporting ignited public outrage. Weinstein's comprehensive understanding of the law enabled him to be one of the first journalists to point out the legal implications of United States detentions at Guantanamo Bay.
A reporter's reporter, Weinstein was among those who publicly confronted the leaders of his paper during the 1999 Los Angeles Times Staples Center fiasco, which threatened the paper's integrity. As controversy erupted over the management of the Times leading to the departure of the publisher in October and the resignation of the editor in November, Weinstein was vocal about the need for America's newspapers to balance their stockholders' desire for profits with the public's need for quality reporting.

Those ethics were evident at the Chancellor Award ceremony in the remarks that Weinstein offered to an audience keenly interested in the future of the press. "I realize that newspapers have to make money to prosper, and indeed the Los Angeles Times certainly has been doing that. There has been a lot of doom and gloom coming from Wall Street, but our paper produced about a 20% profit last year and generated more than 20% of the revenues made by the entire Tribune Company." He went on to say, "If the demand for ever increasing profit overwhelms the rest of what we do, that will be the end of newspapers as we know them."

The John Chancellor Award was established in 1995 by Ira A. Lipman, founder and chairman of Guardsmark, LLC, one of the world's largest security service firms. The award honors the legacy of John Chancellor, the pioneering television correspondent and longtime anchor for NBC News. Weinstein, who grew up watching Chancellor on television, has always been inspired by this courageous newsman. He recalled, "Just a few months before John Chancellor died in 1996, a reporter asked him about his political leanings. Mr. Chancellor gave an answer that resonated deeply with me. 'I'm an activist,' Chancellor said, 'and I'll tell you why. If every citizen had to go through what we went through as reporters, going out and covering poor people, black people, murders, strikes, all that Dickensian underside of American life, they would become biased toward activism.'"
In addition to Halberstam and Lemann, this year's selection panel included journalists John L. Dotson Jr., Henry Klibanoff, Jack Nelson, Michele Norris, Lynn Sherr and Sander Vanocur as well as John Chancellor's daughter Mary Chancellor and Ira Lipman.

Henry Weinstein's acceptance speech

Read more, Henry Weinstein and the Chancellor Award in the press...
Democracy Now (transcript of their interview )
Bay Area Indy Media
LA Observed
Take Back the Times
LA Times story on Henry Weinstein
CJR Daily "Henry Weinstein On What Great Journalism Can and Cannot Do"

Contact Information

Abi Wright, Director
Jonnet Abeles, Program Director, Prizes and Programs
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
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Ph: 212-854-5047
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