The 13th Annual Stephen Barr Award for Feature Writing: Tom Wadsworth


Tom Wadsworth, editor of Door + Access Systems newsmagazine, is the 2016 winner of ASBPE’s Stephen Barr Award for his Fall 2015 article “The Worst Garage Door Company in the Nation.” His investigation into the long-running scams associated with Garage Door Services Co., and its founder Peter James Stephens Jr., exposed in a detailed fashion the methods used by a complex national network of garage door repair shops. Much of Wadsworth’s reporting drew on interviews with current and former Garage Door Services employees and internaI company records. In addition to an outpouring of reader responses, his 8,300-word report prompted Better Business Bureau warnings about deceptive company tactics, and numerous follow-up reports by other media that cited the Door + Access article.

Tom Wadsworth
Tom Wadsworth

Said Dave Lieber, a Dallas Morning News “watchdog columnist” who followed Wadsworth’s article with the newspaper’s own investigation of the company: “This was the most outstanding piece of journalism in an industry magazine I have ever seen.”

Wadsworth has edited Door + Access, a Cleveland-based quarterly trade magazine published by the Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association, since 1999. It circulates among 20,000 garage door professionals throughout North America. The Dixon, Illinois-based editor has authored hundreds of articles on critical industry issues, and is known as an industry leader and historian. He describes himself as “a happily self-employed professional speaker, writer, editor, communications consultant, and voice talent.” His diverse background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology, 10 years in pulpit ministry, 10 years in radio broadcasting, and 10 years as corporate communications manager for a leading U.S. garage door manufacturer.

Of his article “The Worst Garage Door Company in the Nation,” one Stephen Barr Award juror said Wadsworth “did an admirable job of knitting together first-hand reporting and secondary material into a compelling story about how GDS has managed to bilk thousands of consumers, and at the same time elude justice.” The juror added: “It’s a highly unusual look at a corrupt business model, not just another scam.” A second juror called Wadsworth’s article “deeply reported and clearly written…a powerful piece of accountability journalism.” Said that juror: “I was impressed with the author’s ability to get strong on-the-record quotes and to quantify the extent of the company’s abuses,” reporting from “several angles and locations, including the customer perspective.” It was, he said a “standout piece of work in a field of winners”—other Azbee feature articles that earned gold medals in the 2016 competition.

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This is the 13th Stephen Barr Award to be presented. It is named for one of ASBPE’s most honored reporters, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 43. Unlike other ASBPE awards, it honors individual writing across our feature categories, and especially work that shows inventiveness, insight, balance, depth of investigation, and impact on readers. A check for $500 accompanies the award, endowed by Stephen Barr’s parents and administered by the ASBPE Foundation.

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