Will anyone care if an industry member, say, Bryan Silbermann or Tom Stenzel, or, in this case, Jim Prevor, wins an award? If the award is for the right thing, I think so. That’s why I’ve taken over today’s Pundit to tell you about just such an award and why it matters to the industry.
My name is Ken Whitacre, and for those of you who don’t know me I’ve partnered with Jim since the launch of PRODUCE BUSINESS in 1985. Personally, Jim and I go back longer than that… we were fraternity brothers in college.
When we were single, we shared an apartment and we were both each other’s best men at our respective weddings. So I’ve had the chance to know Jim “up close and personal,” and although I don’t have Jim’s gift of prose, I’ve had the privilege — and I consider it a great privilege — of reading and editing every word he has written for the past 24 years.
As I stand here writing, seeped in those millions of words written by Jim, I want to explain that although Jim’s name is on this very special award, it is really the industry that has received an incredible present… and that is what this award is all about.
There was once an editor named Timothy White. He worked for Billboard magazine, and he came to be the conscience of the music industry. He helped it to be better when he could, and he defended the music industry when defense was appropriate. If you happen to be a fan of rap music, you may have heard his name as he was so prominent he even made the lyrics of an Eminem song: “Let me recite ‘til Timothy White, pickets outside the Interscope offices every night.”
When Timothy White passed away, a decision was made by American Business Media (ABM), the association for business-to-business media — from Business Week and Forbes.com to countless business-to-business magazines and web sites — to present a special award for editorial integrity.
This association holds an annual award competition, the Jesse H. Neal Awards, and the awards are given in various categories for excellence in journalism. Jim has been honored in past years as a winner in the category of editorial, commentary and opinion journalism. This year he is nominated again… this time in the “Hard News” category for the unique work he did in PRODUCE BUSINESS and PerishablePundit.com in wrestling with the Salmonella Saintpaul crisis last summer.
The Jesse H. Neal award is very prestigious and difficult to win… it is often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize of the Business Press… and merely to be nominated is a great honor. But this year, in addition to being nominated for the Jesse H. Neal award, Jim is being awarded something different, not just in degree but in kind: he has been named the recipient of The Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity.
Paul Conley, a well-known commenter on business journalism, has called the award the “most important award in business-to-business journalism,” and I know that it is the one most meaningful to Jim. Here is how the criteria for the award is explained:
The Timothy White Award recognizes exemplary leadership in the face of the challenges and pressures that editors face daily. Named after the longtime editor of Billboard who served as the moral compass of the music industry by tackling controversial issues before succumbing to a heart attack in June 2002, the award is given to an editor whose work displays courage, integrity and passion.
The editor being nominated should have followed White’s lead by:
• Standing up to outside pressures — whether from advertisers, industry executives or upper management — that threaten to interfere with the goal of placing readers first and maintaining independent, honest and ethical journalism.
• Serving as the ‘conscience’ of the audience that his/her publication or Web site serves and fearlessly supporting important industry causes. Although courage, integrity and passion are the prime requirements for this award, the nominee should also:
• Uphold the integrity of business-to-business journalism as defined in the American Business Media’s Editorial Code of Ethics and other professional standards.
• Mentor editorial colleagues and other members of the publication to instill the highest ethical standards.
ABM does not necessarily give this award annually. It is reserved as a kind of “Special Oscar” for individuals who exemplify courage, integrity and passion in an extraordinary way.
Obviously Jim has a lot of friends in the industry, so I know he will get a lot of e-mails and notes congratulating him on this achievement. These are people who care about Jim and will be glad for his accomplishment and success. But I would make the case that those who don’t know Jim, who have no personal relationship with him, should still be pleased by this award.
After all, what is an industry but a series of institutions, and how can an industry be any better than the quality of those institutions?
Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
It is equally true that an industry expecting to advance depends crucially on the institutions that inform and educate its members, crucially on the forums available for analysis and debate, crucially on someone having the courage to bring it all together, someone not afraid to speak the truth.
In this industry, Jim Prevor is that institution.
The specifics of the merits for which Jim won this award include his exemplarily service to the industry during various food safety crises, such as the spinach crisis and the Salmonella Saintpaul crisis, when he frequently worked around the clock to determine and analyze the story. (How many of you recall those daily Pundit editions released at 3 and 4 am for weeks on end?)
The award also recognizes Jim’s willingness to tell it as he sees it even if that meant alienating important advertisers or readers. The series we have run on Sunkist, Ocean Spray and Tesco’s Fresh & Easy fall into these categories.
The award also is partly given for engaging and encouraging honest dialog in the industry and partly for representing the industry to the general public. Whether on CNN, Fox Business Channel, NPR, the BBC or being quoted in hundreds of media outlets, Jim was there, credible as an independent editor and analyst, helping the world to better understand the industry.
Timothy White was well known for caring about the little guy, the small artist who might not get the attention of the big record label. In much the same way, Jim always makes a place for the little guy — the Mexican farmer, the Honduran grower, the regional processor; the local wholesaler. He makes sure that the voiceless have a chance to be heard.
Yet mostly this award is for building a culture at PRODUCE BUSINESS, PerishablePundit.com and our other magazines that is built around the notion that telling the truth is primary and that, in this business, success depends ultimately on reputation — whatever the short term cost.
Jim has been published in The Wall Street Journal and is a steady presence on TV and radio programs. If it were not for a quirk of history, I think Jim would have somehow devoted his life to big consumer publications and probably be guiding the President right now. But Jim’s destiny was always tied to the produce industry.
Jim is the great-grandson of Jacob Prevor, who ran a produce wholesaling operation on the old Wallabout Produce Market in Brooklyn; he is the grandson of Harry Prevor, who was a wholesaler and auction buyer on the old Washington Street Market in Manhattan. And he is the son of Michael Prevor, who moved the family business to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx and made it a leader in the import and export trade.
Out of his tie to that history grew a fierce allegiance to the trade and so he has devoted his life to making it stronger and better.
It is easy to assume that if Churchill hadn’t been born, Britain still would have stood up to the Nazis and never surrendered. It is easy to assume that if Einstein hadn’t existed, the theory of relativity would have been invented by the next guy… that if George Washington hadn’t been in the picture, the Republic would have still done just fine, and that if Lincoln had not been there to be so obstinate about the Union, the Union still would have endured.
So, in our little industry, it is easy to assume that if Jim didn’t scribble, someone else would and nothing would have changed. But watching other industries, I think this assumption would be incorrect.
People with intellect, knowledge, perseverance — or in the specifics of this award, “integrity, passion and courage” — do not have to work in our industry. They have many other opportunities and if they did not work in this industry, we would all be poorer for it.
Jim will receive his award during a big banquet at the fabled Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in New York City on March 19, 2009. (Unfortunately, both of us will miss the first day of the Produce Solutions Conference commencing that same day, but Jim and I will be in Nashville the next day.) Jim’s wife, Debbie, and I will be at the banquet to provide some well earned applause, for this is really a case where, though Jim will accept the award, it is the industry that has won the prize.
Congratulations to Jim on being named the 2009 recipient of The Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity. I doubt he’ll be included in any rap songs, though maybe someone will one day name a produce variety after him. In the meantime, if you would like to send a note of congratulations and appreciation for what Jim has contributed to the industry, you can do so here.