Plastics News was honored June 8 by the Detroit Society of Professional Journalists' annual Excellence in Journalism awards.
The editorial team including Steve Toloken, Hollee Keller, Frank Esposito and Catherine Kavanaugh won first place in the General News category for the July 13 story "Plastics firms get at least $1.6B in PPP funds."
The story was written by Toloken using data crunched by Keller, PN's editorial research coordinator. Esposito and Kavanaugh contributed additional reporting.
Since there has been strong interest in the topic of PPP loans in the industry, I'm taking the opportunity to give readers a look behind the story that won this award.
The project started when the U.S. Department of the Treasury posted data on loans given to employers through the Paycheck Protection Program. The program was established to provide economic relief to small businesses that were adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Small Business Administration released the entire database July 6, and it was a real scramble and team effort to crunch the numbers and talk to enough loan recipients to post the story by July 10.
SBA's data included 661,218 records that included company names with loan amount ranges and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. About 4.2 million records included loan amounts plus NAICS codes, but with no company names.
Keller started by isolating the 15 NAICS codes relating to plastics that were included in the dataset. Cross referencing these codes to the loan data, she pulled statistics for each related business segment. Her report included counts and tallies by NAICS code, state and loan size.
In total, she found 6,257 loans that were related to plastics. For those records where the government included company names, she matched them with firms in Plastics News' extensive database of North American plastics processors. This provided identification of firms that allowed our reporters to pursue more in-depth coverage.
"As far as the reporting, I remember we contacted a lot of companies on the list for comment but very few got back, which is not surprising," Toloken said. "Fortunately, we had enough solid anecdotes from the ones who responded to weave in some good examples so the story read well."
Here's what the Detroit SPJ contest judges had to say about our entry: "This piece vividly demonstrates initiative and ingenuity in tackling a huge database to tease out detail relevant to a specific industry. The reporters augmented the data analysis with solid field reporting and anecdotes that shows the impact of a federal loan program on companies adversely affected by the pandemic. Overall, the entry is an example of strong business-reporting enterprise."
After crunching the PPP data for plastics details for Plastics News, Keller did the same for rubber-related company details for Rubber & Plastics News and Tire Business, two sister publication. RPN's coverage is also up for a journalism award, from the Cleveland Press Club. The results of that competition will be announced June 24.
Plastics News' PPP story was one of the most-read on our website in 2020.