Las Vegas Sun series on construction deaths wins Sunlight award

A rookie Las Vegas Sun reporter’s extensive investigation of deaths of construction workers on the Los Vegas strip was the top winner in the Associated Press/California First Amendment Coalition 2009 contest to celebrate tenacious reporting in the public interest. -DB

May 5, 2009
Associated Press

For her series of over 50 stories on contruction worker deaths, Alexandra Berzon of the Las Vegas Sun won the top newswriting prize in the Associated Press California/Nevada Newswriting and Photo Contest, celebrating the best print journalism of 2008 by AP member newspapers in the two states.

The series won AP’s Mark Twain best-of-show award, the Sunlight Freedom of Information Award, co-sponsored and judged by the California First Amendment Coalition.

Berzon and the Sun were honored for a series of stories that exposed a high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip and how lax safety rules and the rush to build quickly contributed to the injury and death rate. The newspaper reported that 12 workers had died within 18 months on the Strip in the middle of a $32 billion building boom.

The Sun’s effort also won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer board said the series exposed “the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip amid lax enforcement of regulations, leading to changes in policy and improved safety conditions.” Berzon’s work significantly reduced the numbers of deaths in high rise construction.

The CFAC judges praised the series “for the willingness to take on entrenched interests; for the successful use of FOI laws to obtain crucial records; for the effective use of online presentation and interactive features; and for obtaining stunning results: changes in safety practices and enforcement that appear to have made these jobs far safer.”

The Sacramento Bee was a close second-place winner for its extensive investigation of Sacramento’s Child Protective Services agency. Using a new access law, the series demonstrated that changes to the agency prompted by an earlier expose have done little to protect children from serious harm, and even death, caused by criminally abusive parents and other care givers. CFAC judges commended the Bee’s “dogged” pursuit of this important and controversial news story, which has generated multiple investigations, including a grand jury investigation.

“These stories demonstrate what can happen when enterprising reporters vigorously assert their rights under access laws,” said former newspaper publisher and long-time CFAC Board member, Rowland Rebele.

The winner of the Sunlight award will receive $500.

CFAC judges were Executive Director Peter Scheer; CFAC board members Rebele; James M. Chadwick, attorney with Sheppard Mullin; Paul Gullixson, editorial page editor, Santa Rosa Press Democrat; Edward Davis, San Francisco media lawyer; and Dick Rogers, reader representative of The San Francisco Chronicle. Retired journalism teacher Donal Brown and CFAC volunteer was also one of the judges.

The Los Vegas Sun series can be found at
The Sacramento Bee stories are available at and

Copyright 2009 Associated Press