The 2015 MOLLY National Journalism Prize Goes to Esther Kaplan

"The depth of reporting is impressive, the breadth of vision remarkable,” commented one awards judge.

In the summer of 2014, the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) published Esther Kaplan’s investigation “Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity.” The article illuminates the topic of globalization through the prism of a lighting-fixture plant in central Tennessee that was launched in 1963 and shut down by Dutch giant Philips in 2012, despite being profitable at the time and anointed by Industry Week magazine as one of North America’s ten “Best Plants.”

From the article:

The Philips lighting plant was the last union plant in the county — ​a loss repeated across the state, where, according to Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, unionization has dropped from about 25 percent in the 1970s to a mere six percent today. For years, negotiations over wages and benefits at the plant set the standard at other big factories in town. “We were the benchmarks,” Jim Gray, a Detroit transplant, told me one night over dinner with several other refugees from the plant.

On Friday, at a ceremony in Austin MC-ed by actress Kathleen Turner, Kaplan was awarded The Texas Observer’s 2015 MOLLY National Journalism Prize for the piece, edging out finalists from the Chicago Tribune and BuzzFeed News. From the announcement:

The competition recognizes great American journalism and honors the memory of Molly Ivins, the legendary reporter, columnist and former editor of The Texas Observer. One judge praised Kaplan for her reporting “on the economics that many feel have damaged the fabric of America,” saying “the depth of reporting is impressive, the breadth of vision remarkable.”

Kaplan, based in Brooklyn, is the editor of The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and also co-hosts Beyond the Pale, a weekly WBAI 99.5 FM program about Jewish culture and politics. The MOLLY award comes with a $5,000 cash prize.