Media critic earns Bart Richards Award

April 15, 2011

University Park, Pa. — A Los Angeles Times columnist who focused his work on unethical practices by local television stations, including the use of paid content on newscasts, was selected as the 2010 recipient of the Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism.

Media columnist James Rainey used his columns to describe the deterioration of traditional journalism on local television.

In place of reporting on local TV news, Rainey found a pay-for-play approach that benefited big businesses (organizations such as automakers, hospitals, toy companies and others) that ensured their "news" was televised through payments and relationships not made public -- until Rainey's work shed light on the practice.

His efforts led to the departure of the news director of one network affiliate in Los Angeles. It also prompted a public interest group to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

"The phenomenon might be going unnoticed entirely were it not for the dogged and insightful reporting of James Rainey," said Davan Maharaj, managing editor of the Times, who submitted Rainey's work for the Bart Richards Award. "His tough inquiries spared no target, including the Times' corporate sister, KTLA-TV in Los Angeles."

The Bart Richards Award, presented annually by the College of Communications at Penn State, recognizes outstanding contributions to print and broadcast journalism through responsible analysis or critical evaluation.

This year's award honors work produced during the 2010 calendar year. It will be presented Thursday, May 26, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Judges for the award believed Rainey's work clearly deserved recognition.

Judge Charles Edwards, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Drake University, said Rainey's columns were "interesting and important."

"It got to the truth and was well done," said fellow judge Rich Holden, executive director of the Dow Jones News Fund.

"He took on an issue that deserved attention and what he did made a difference," said judge Steve Geimann of Bloomberg News. "His work led to action. it exemplified the spirit of the award."

Rainey has been a professional journalist for 29 years, most of them at the Los Angeles Times, where he has covered government, politics, media, the environment and a host of other issues. At the Times, Rainey wrote the first stories describing the mass spread of mini-malls around Los Angeles street corners. He covered the 1992 riots and 1994 earthquake and several wildfires. At Los Angeles City Hall, he covered the mayoral administrations of Tom Bradley and Dick Riordan, as well as Antonio Villaraigosa’s first run for mayor, in 2001.
Rainey has earned national awards for his writing about emotionally disturbed children and about land claims by Native Americans. He received another prize for a series on the abuse of inmates at California Youth Authority prisons.
Rainey traveled with the candidates, wrote features and conducted investigations during the 2004 and 2008 presidential races, focusing in the latter campaign on the role of the media in the election. He spent a month in Iraq in 2006, again following the media, U.S. military efforts and the formation of the Maliki government.
He attended Santa Monica High School and the University of California at Berkeley, where he was sports editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Californian.
Rainey is a frequent guest on radio and television, speaking about the media and politics. He credits assistant managing editor Sallie Hofmeister, his editor, with helping shape and drive the coverage of “fake news” on local TV.

The May 26 award presentation will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Penn State alumni and friends are welcome to attend. For more information about the award presentation and reception, call 814-865-8801 or visit online.

Recent winners of the Bart Richards Award include: Columbia Journalism Review, 2009; Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008; PBS “Frontline,” 2007; Byron Calame, public editor of The New York Times, 2006; Sydney Schanberg, a columnist for The Village Voice, 2005;  and “State of the News Media” by Project for Excellence in Journalism (Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel), 2004.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2011