Sterling, who also captured the award in 1987 and 1989, won for a 1998 portfolio that included an exhaustive investigation into the Baptist Foundation of Arizona. Sterling reported millions of dollars in sweetheart insider loans and self-dealing among the trustees of an organization that relies on the faith of parishioners throughout the state. The series, titled "The MoneyChangers," sparked investigations at all levels of government. "The MoneyChangers" also won Sterling the Press Club's top prize for investigative reporting.
New Times journalists dominated the writing and reporting competition, winning firsts in 13 of 31 categories. New Times picked up two more firsts in the design competition. The winners were announced Saturday in Tucson during the Press Club's annual banquet.
The Virg Hill Journalist of the Year award was selected by a panel of four highly decorated out-of-state journalists. Sterling and New Times' John Dougherty are the only two journalists ever to win the award three times. A New Times journalist has won the prize nine of the past 13 years.
Of Sterling's work in "The MoneyChangers," Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Carollo of the Dayton Daily News wrote: "This reporter possessed one of the most important qualities of a journalist: never giving up despite large obstacles. In this case, the subject wasn't a government agency with thousands of documents available through public records laws. It was a religious organization, and that made the story harder to get. The reporting was comprehensive, and the results were of great value to readers."
Pulitzer winner Lisa Getter of the Los Angeles Times noted that Sterling's Baptist Foundation work "uncovers a questionable, complicated insider trading scam."
In awarding Sterling the Don Bolles Award for Investigative Reporting, judge Deborah Nelson, a Pulitzer winner from the Seattle Times, wrote: "This extraordinary project stood out not only for its disturbing findings about a church organization, but also for the remarkable reporting that went into untangling such a complex web. While not an easy-to-read narrative, its strong facts carried one through an increasingly outrageous series of stories. Many reporters would have been deterred by a topic so difficult to report and even harder to write. But we live in a complex world, and it's critically important for journalists to rise to the challenge. Congratulations to the reporter who did it and the newspaper that published it."
Sterling, who has been a staff writer for New Times since 1986, also won first in the Diversity Reporting category for her piece about urban renewal in Chandler ("A Revolting Redevelopment").
Dougherty won three firsts, for Environmental Reporting ("Sacrificial Wolves," about the federal government's wolf reintroduction project), Business Non-Deadline Reporting ("Block That Pitch," about the commercialization of ASU football games) and Project Reporting ("Bordering on Exploitation,") a special section about Mexico's maquiladora industry on which Dougherty was teamed with David Holthouse. Dougherty also won an honorable mention for Non-Deadline Sports Reporting.
Tony Ortega won two firsts: in Science, Technology and Medicine, for "Starship Stupors," which debunked the purported extraterrestriality of the so-called "Phoenix Lights"; and Religion, Faith or Ethics Reporting, for "Preach of Trust," about a Pentecostal minister who led a secret, homosexual lifestyle. Ortega also won second in Diversity Reporting.
Art Director Sonda Andersson Pappan won two firsts in design--Magazine Cover and Magazine Design--while capturing third and honorable mention in Magazine Cover, a second in Special Section, and third in Magazine Design. Former assistant art director Michael Shavalier shared the Special Section award with Andersson Pappan, and won an honorable mention for Magazine Design.
Paul Rubin won a first in Law and Order Reporting for "A Killer Sleep Disorder," a piece about a man who claimed he was sleepwalking when he murdered his wife; second in Long Form Feature Writing; third in Short Form Feature Writing; and third in Project Reporting.
Dewey Webb captured first in Short Form Feature Writing for his piece "The Dead and Gone Salon," about hairdressers for the deceased; a second in Lifestyle Reporting; and a second in Feature Headline Writing.
Michael Kiefer won first in Personality Profile, for "Timely Tim," a portrait of Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest Director Tim Hogan, and third in the same category for "St. Travis at the Bat." He also won an honorable mention for Education Reporting.
Gilbert Garcia won the Spotlight Award for his piece titled "End of a Record Run," about Brad Singer, the late owner of Zia Record Exchange.
Chris Farnsworth won second in Law and Order Reporting and honorable mention in Environmental Reporting.
Amy Silverman won thirds in Long Form Feature Writing and Non-Deadline Sports Reporting.
Ed Lebow won third and M. V. Moorhead won an honorable mention for General Criticism.
Contributors Leigh Silverman (General Reporting) and Brian Smith (Lifestyle Reporting) won thirds, as did Jeremy Voas, for Feature Headlines.