The Anniston Star writing team of Bob Davis, editor; Phillip Tutor, commentary editor; and John Fleming, editor at large, shared the award, which includes a plaque and $1,000. Their prize came in the category of newspapers with less than 50,000 circulation.
The Star’s editorial series, which was published in June 2008, focused on Alabama’s lax state regulations governing what is known as payday or small-loan lending.
The series’ final installment began, “Today's predatory lenders have two distinct advantages over their shadier forebears: skilled public relations defenders and laws legitimizing their work. But the toll exacted on the economically vulnerable by these modern-day loan sharks is as harsh as it ever was.”
The series used examples of northeast Alabama residents on both sides of the equation to illustrate what it termed the state’s “abuse of its own people.”
“The deep research and sharp writing of these editorials alone set them among the top entries,” one contest judge wrote of the predatory lending series. “They put faces to what might be nameless statistics and explore individual stories. That makes them all the more readable and memorable.”
Another judge wrote, “The devastating effects of the state's almost worthless usury law comes alive as the writers put human faces on this financial tragedy.”
H. Brandt Ayers, The Star’s chairman and publisher offered his congratulations to “the editorial trio on an enterprise series that lives up to our philosophical North Star, being a defender of the most defenseless.”
In the category for newspapers with circulations higher than 50,000 another Alabama newspaper was recognized. Mac Thrower of the Press-Register in Mobile won for his editorials criticizing Alabama’s grocery tax.
This week’s honor is the second time in three years the Carmage Walls prize has gone to an Anniston Star staff member. In 2007, Davis won for commentary on the drive to reform Alabama’s Constitution.
The SNPA notes, “The commentary award is named for the late Benjamin Carmage Walls, whose newspaper career spanned several decades, and recognizes outstanding commentary on local issues and encourages thoughtful, courageous and constructive editorial page leadership.”
• View the Predatory Lending series