VJ Epstein, journalism lifer  

...executing both the calling and the profession

 

Clips


(Please forgive the mess. Page under construction)
I like to say "there's nothing I can't do in a newsroom" and the variety of national scoops I've broken is the best proof is the best illustration. I've covered stories on every beat from, politics to fashion to Islamic finance at some time in my life.

I don't do attendance awards or poser jargon. So you won't see generic stories on here whose only redeeming quality is that they involved national news.

What you will see are a widely stories I advanced or found. Many of them would not have appeared at all without me.


Click on the headline or the pics at left to open them up.


This insurance trend story took first place in the nation for business feature writing from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2014. It used a host of economic indicators to show that  the city of Des Moines, Neb., was closing in on Hartford, Conn., as the U.S. insurance hub.

-Bloomberg News: Texas Football Succumbs to Virulent Staph Infection From Turf

I was researching the spread of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2007 when I discovered things were much worse than the general public had been led to believe. As many as 16 high school students were simultaneously infected on some Texas football teams at a time when the national media were scrambling to cover individual cases.


This global scoop that led to a whole series of stories about improper firings of older workers by big banks rebelling against a federal regulation meant to prevent them from hiring executives with a history of financial misconduct.

The series unfolded over an eight month period and was picked up by organizations as diverse as Reuters, Der Speigel, The Guardian and The Colbert Report. It culminated in a federal rule change.


National scoop on the most expensive soccer stadium in U.S. history. The New York Times picked up this wire story when I was at AP and gave me the rare compliment of running it under my byline.


Cynical Times: FBI culling Nordic-looking passengers from flights

I've been trying my hand at a little satire lately for a website I run called The Cynical Times, which is devoted to the faltering middle class. This story about the Transportation Safety Administration turned out well. Whoever said "comedy is hard" knew what they were talking about.

The key to satire is to generate farfetched stories that actually sound viable at first blush.

Des Moines Register: Kansas law thrusts EMC Insurance into gun debate

At the height of the national gun control debate, Kansas lawmakers pushed through a ridiculous measure meant to permit and encourage teacher and janitors to carry their firearms at work. I generated another national scoop when I learned the lrading school insurer in the state refused to continue to cover them if this occurred.


-Omaha World-Herald: Council Bluffs Sees a Payoff... Gambling sparked an economic revival that has been bolstered by the retail sector and meatpacking


In the scheme of things, this isn't a big story. However, at the time it was written it was because the struggling community of Council Bluffs, Iowa, was finally seeing the financial benefits of its casinos and leveraging them into an economic turnaround.


This scoop was sitting right under the noses of the two reporters assigned to our bureau in this competitive market. However, like a lot of scribes, they preferred to ignore the beats they didn't enjoy.

When I approached them about working together on this business story, they passed. They just couldn't visualize it until after it ran full front-page, which is a rare and wonderful thing in the news world.



Jeb Bush hit rock bottom with black voters during his re-election campaign in Florida in 2002, with only 2 percent of their votes. I used computer-assisted reporting to determine he received fewer votes from the state's black precincts than any major party candidate for statewide office in at least 12 years.

Cynical Times: Why The Cynical Times uses foul language
This column was written long before Trump became president and attempted to explain why the silver spoon and the right wing noise machine are so popular with the faltering middle class. And why liberal elites are not.

 

 

 

 


This story spotlighted government hearings being held in relative secrecy by New York City's infamous shippers. Instead of holding them in Albany where the state's capital press corps was locked in on such things, monied interests held them in Manhattan and without press scrutiny. Except for me.

My story preserved the labor protections erected after  corruption in the Port of New York and New Jersey was publicized by the iconic film "On The Waterfront."


Bloomberg News: Hurricane Katrina: Bush New Orleans Visit Frustrates Devastated Neighbors of City

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made sure to avoid devastated Chalmette - home to St. Rita's Nursing Home - during their visits to New Orleans. At one point Cheney told me he was unfamiliar with the situation there, which hardly seemed likely given the lengthy discussions I'd had with the staffers who planned his visit.

His response was the political equivalent of boxer Roberto Duran saying "no mas." I was the only reporter on the ground in New Orleans who reported it, scoring another win over a huge press pack.


19. Bloomberg: Valero Plant Expansion From Internal Memo

This exclusive story on the $1.4 billion expansion of Valero's refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, occurred after I obtained a copy of an internal memo about the project and confirmed its authenticity. Every competing beat reporter had to match.


Neat little investigative story explaining a shortage of migrant labor in Southwest Florida. Turned out other industries wanted the same workers and were willing to treat them better.


Cynical Times: Occupy Wall Street Infiltrator Confesses All
This column deals with the idiocy of the witch hunt within the Occupy Wall Street movement for suspected infiltrators.


Cynical Times: Occupy Wall Street Infiltrator Confesses All

...Journalist owns up to sordid history of deception

Covering the Occupy Wall Street movement as it developed in 2011 and 2012 was no easy thing for any reporter, but it's a little harder when you're a former Bloomberg economic reporter and a former managing editor of the Bond Buyer business daily, especially at a time of incredible media bias toward this populist group.

I was repeatedly accused by members of Occupy of being some kind of infiltrator, even though I was writing for a fledgling news organization in the Cynical Times that tried to cover the faltering middle class the same way The Wall Street Journal covers the wealthy - meaning them and what interests them. This was even more frustrating because we were simultaneously being alternatively ignored and abused by the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Eventually, I decided that the only way to handle the abuse was to take a lesson from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report and respond with humor and satire. The result is one of the best columns I've ever produced.








The Des Moines Register: Insurance regulators scrutinize new owners

Hedge funds and private equity funds started buying distressed insurance companies at steep discounts in 2013 in a bid to secure their huge assets pools. Only problem is that these funds typically are much more aggressive in their investing style than the staid insurance industry

Insurers rely on buy and hold investing to keep promises to policyholders that can span decades. The funds use a risk-based style in which big risks are justified by big returns, but policyholders can wind up losing when things go sour.

I began following this development in 2012, when West Des Moines-based Aviva USA was put on the auction block, and landed numerous scoops as I followed the deal through the regulatory process. The best story was the one above.

Here are a few other notable stories from the series, which was followed by Reuters, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and a host of other international news organizations.

 


I broke a lot of big stories for Bloomberg. Few were bigger than Valero's $1.4 billion expansion of its refinery in St. Charles, La. I learned about it from an internal memo.





Having a solid background in economic indicators really comes in handy when I need to explain stories like this one statistically at a time when the economic nonsense coming out of DC is snowing so many people.








Bloomberg News: Decaying Bodies Abound in Low-Lying St. Bernard

The deaths of 35  senior citizens inside St. Rita's Nursing Home is widely considered the iconic event of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. It's not the best story I've ever written, but it is the biggest I've  broken and probably the biggest non-business story Bloomberg News has ever broken.

This was a worldwide scoop and we had it for the better part of two days before anyone else got on the board in a meaningful way. That's a big deal when the competing press pack numbers in the thousands, as this one did, and includes field reporters from every major news organization in the world.

No one was ever able to match my account of the body count because no one else participated in it.

The back-story is detailed in the first-person account below, called "Lady in the Hall.

 

 

 

 

Military Clips

I decided the best way to cover Veterans Day was to spend some time at a VA domiciliary with the vets living there. It worked, producing a heartbreaking feature.




NJ Locals Recall Boxing Champ Arturo Gatti

Feature about the friends of world champion boxer Arturo Gatti and their thoughts about his untimely death. Lots of tough guys in this one and a glimpse inside their world.





This local story was loaded with national scoops, including the first interview with the head of the engineering team investigating the Twin Towers' collapse during 9/11. He said it probably resulted from the absence of a concrete sheer core and the higher temperatures of an aviation gasoline fire, which halved the steel girders' weight bearing ability.