CoinDesk Wins a Polk Award, One of Journalism's Top Prizes, for Explosive FTX Coverage

Three stories were honored, including Ian Allison’s scoop that led to Sam Bankman-Fried’s $32 billion crypto empire collapsing in days.

AccessTimeIconFeb 20, 2023 at 3:00 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 4:08 a.m. UTC
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CoinDesk journalists won a George Polk Award for the scoop that led to Sam Bankman-Fried’s $32 billion cryptocurrency empire collapsing in days and for two explosive follow-up stories. This is the news organization’s first major journalism award.

CoinDesk’s Ian Allison and Tracy Wang won the prize for financial reporting, according to a statement Monday. Previous winners in that category include The Wall Street Journal’s series on Theranos and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ stories on the so-called Panama Papers.

Created in 1949 by Long Island University to honor murdered war correspondent George Polk, the Polk Awards are among the most prestigious prizes in journalism and emphasize “investigative work that is original, resourceful and thought-provoking.” The trio of honored CoinDesk stories exemplified those qualities.

“This is an important milestone, not only for CoinDesk, but for crypto media generally,” said Michael Casey, CoinDesk’s chief content officer. “Despite all that Ian and Tracy’s incredible reporting exposed – and the fallout that it triggered – the crypto industry will continue to have a significant impact on the world. It’s vital that it be covered with the kind of probing, well-informed, professional journalism embodied by these two reporters and their attentive, dedicated editors.”

The industry-shaking Nov. 2 story from Allison, a senior reporter, resulted from a source’s tip that Sam Bankman-Fried’s closely held trading firm, Alameda Research, was on shakier financial footing than was generally known. Allison got to work finding evidence and nailed it by obtaining the company’s balance sheet, which was not a public document.

It showed that a significant portion of Alameda’s billions of dollars in assets was secretly made up of FTT, a sort of digital Monopoly money issued by Bankman-Fried’s better-known FTX crypto exchange.

The resulting story raised concerns about the stability of Alameda and FTX, and called into question Bankman-Fried’s image as a white knight capable of backstopping struggling companies and as an “adult in the room” in a field notorious for fly-by-night outfits and scammers. The article debuted in a world where FTX was fast becoming a household name thanks to a marketing blitz featuring Larry David, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen.

Within days the price of FTT plummeted and Bankman-Fried agreed to a bailout from rival exchange Binance. Almost immediately, Binance got cold feet, as revealed by another Polk-winning scoop from Allison that instantly drove down prices in the entire crypto market. Hours later, Binance confirmed it was backing out of the deal.

Wang, a deputy managing editor, provided the third CoinDesk scoop honored by the Polk Awards: A story revealing 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.

Nine days after Allison’s initial story, Bankman-Fried’s companies filed for bankruptcy protection. Not long after, Bankman-Fried was arrested and the U.S. Congress held hearings.

There is little precedent in journalism history for a story that made such an impact and did it so quickly. 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.

More than 2,000 news stories have 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.

“As great an honor as the George Polk award is, I gotta say Ian and Tracy totally deserve it for some of the best journalism it’s been my pleasure to witness,” said Kevin Reynolds, CoinDesk’s editor-in-chief. “They and the work they did are totally awesome. I also need to give a shout-out to Deputy Editor-in-Chief Nick Baker, who was a key partner to Ian and Tracy in bringing these market-shaking stories to life, and to the rest of the CoinDesk news team, which kicked butt on covering the maelstrom that resulted from Ian and Tracy’s incredible scoops.”

Disclosure

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Nick Baker

Nick Baker is CoinDesk’s deputy editor-in-chief and a Loeb Award winner. His crypto holdings are below CoinDesk's $1,000 disclosure threshold.

Marc Hochstein

Marc Hochstein is the executive editor of Consensus, CoinDesk's flagship event. He holds BTC above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1K and de minimis amounts of other digital assets (details on profile page).


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