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Sam Bankman-Fried Scoops Help CoinDesk Win Major Journalism Award

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CoinDesk journalists won a Gerald Loeb Award, widely considered the top prize in financial and business journalism, for exposing the shaky foundation beneath Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency empire and then vividly documenting the industry giant’s rapid, groundshaking and sometimes bizarre demise.

Ian Allison, Tracy Wang, Nick Baker, Cheyenne Ligon, Sam Reynolds, Sam Kessler, Nikhilesh De and Reilly Decker’s win in the breaking news category was announced at an event Thursday night in New York. They were revealed as finalists in August.

Named for Gerald M. Loeb, the awards were established in 1957 to “encourage and support reporting on business and finance that inform and protect the private investor and the general public,” according to the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, which oversees them.

The centerpiece story was Allison’s explosive Nov. 2, 2022, piece that raised questions about how sturdy Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s large trading firm, was – and, by extension, how safe the billionaire’s affiliated and better-known crypto exchange FTX was. Other CoinDesk stories honored by the Loebs revealed the unusual living arrangements of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle, documented (as it was still happening) a massive hack of FTX as the company was collapsing and gave readers a colorful view inside Bankman-Fried’s first court appearance.

Nine days after Allison’s initial story came out, Bankman-Fried’s companies were in bankruptcy court – a collapse so big (FTX had been valued at $32 billion earlier in 2022) and so fast it has little or no precedent. He was arrested soon after, and his trial in a Manhattan courtroom begins next week.

Allison’s initial scoop was widely cited as the catalyst for the collapse. Thousands of news stories credited CoinDesk for setting off the chain of events, including pieces from high-profile publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, The Verge, New York Magazine, CNN and NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast.

The fallout reverberated throughout the crypto industry and even hurt CoinDesk’s corporate sibling Genesis and parent company Digital Currency Group, underscoring CoinDesk’s editorial independence and dedication to telling important stories.

“I’m totally blown away and humbled yet also immensely proud because this outstanding group of reporters and editors totally earned it,” said Kevin Reynolds, the editor-in-chief of CoinDesk. “The journalistic excellence, the commitment to following the story no matter where it led and the true esprit de corps are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Allison’s story detailed Alameda’s private balance sheet, which he obtained from a confidential source. The article’s explosive revelation was that Alameda was on potentially shaky footing because of its deep financial exposure to the FTT token issued by FTX. FTT made up nearly half of Alameda’s $14.6 billion of assets.

That was a surprising degree of financial entanglement for two supposedly separate companies, and also a pretty speculative asset to stash much of a trading firm’s assets into. If sentiment around FTX and Bankman-Fried were to tank, the price of FTT could fall, dragging Alameda down with it.

And that’s basically what happened. Four days after Allison’s story came out, Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao tweeted that “due to recent revelations,” his exchange would sell its hefty FTT holdings. That quickly drove down the price of FTT, putting Bankman-Fried’s companies into a tailspin.

Bankman-Fried was forced two days later to seek a bailout from Binance, a rival crypto exchange. But that proposed takeover fell apart in a day, something another Allison scoop (and Loeb winner) revealed was likely to happen hours before it was made official. Then, on Nov. 11, Bankman-Fried’s companies were forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

CoinDesk’s third Loeb-winning scoop that set the industry abuzz was a story by Tracy Wang that Bankman-Fried and nine co-workers lived together in a luxury Bahamas condominium and at times dated each other while running his companies – including the fact that Bankman-Fried and Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison had once been a couple.

The piece raised concerns about nepotism, secrecy and conflicts of interest, previewing the tone of a scathing report issued soon after on FTX’s extremely lax administrative procedures. Besides Bankman-Fried and Ellison, the story named senior FTX executives Gary Wang and Nishad Singh; Ellison, Gary Wang and Singh all subsequently pleaded guilty to federal charges related to FTX.

Two other CoinDesk stories were honored by the Loebs. One documented the dramatic hack of FTX hours after its bankruptcy filing, an attack that drained hundreds of millions of dollars. Cheyenne Ligon, Sam Reynolds, Sam Kessler, Nikhilesh De and Reilly Decker’s collaborative, late-night reporting effort allowed CoinDesk to publish an evocative account of what was going on as it was still happening.

That story and the three scoops by Allison and Tracy Wang were edited by Nick Baker, who was also awarded a Loeb.

CoinDesk’s final Loeb winner was Ligon’s engrossing account, edited by De, of Bankman-Fried’s first court appearance, which was in the Bahamas. The story was the only detailed piece on the often-colorful event.

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