For its coverage of health and safety violations in the poultry industry “The Cruelest Cuts,” the Charlotte Observer has won the 2008 Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers, and will be presented a $10,000 prize by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard on April 16, 2009.
Based on thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews, “The Cruelest Cuts” investigation focused on the North Carolina-based House of Raeford farms and uncovered safety regulation abuses that included preventing injured workers from seeking a doctor’s care, bringing injured employees back to work just hours after surgery, and hiring underage workers to perform dangerous jobs. Many of those workers were illegal immigrants who were reluctant to complain, fearing repercussion.
Throughout the production of the series, the paper sought comment from Raeford officials, even twice postponing publication to allow the company more time to respond to questions. Reporters for the series were Ames Alexander, Kerry Hall, Peter St. Onge, and Franco Ordoñez. Ted Mellnik was database editor for the series. The stories have led to congressional hearings and efforts to punish the underreporting of workplace injuries, the indictment of a Raeford company manager, increased staffing in the North Carolina labor department, and promises from federal and state legislators to protect young workers from hazardous jobs.