COURIER honored for best public journalism, investigative reporting

COURIER reporter and columnist Mick Rhodes’ three-part series “Gaming the System” was named both the best public journalism story and best investigative reporting in the state of California for 2021 by the California News Publishers Association.

“Okay … wow. In reading these stories, I got angry for the consumers,” the CNPA judging committee wrote in its public journalism announcement on Tuesday. “And the journalists who exposed these practices should be so proud. This is amazing Public Service journalism. No, it’s not super flashy. But these are real issues that are affecting real people. This journalism is the bedrock of how newspapers can make a difference in their communities.”

The CNPA’s investigative reporting judges had this to say about “Gaming the System”:

“Fake reviews. Customers being forced to leave positive reviews before their plumber will leave. Outrageous bills. The fact that Rooter Hero paid nearly $209K to the state and ripped off customers validates the effectiveness of Claremont Courier’s reporting. Great watchdog reporting by Mick Rhodes!”

Gaming the System” appeared over three weeks in late June and early July 2021. It won in the category of weekly newspapers with a circulation under 11,000. A link to the story is here:

“I am extremely grateful to the CNPA for this recognition,” Rhodes said Tuesday. “I worked very hard for very long on this story, and I want to thank my editor Peter Weinberger for allowing me the leeway to see it through.”

The COURIER has won multiple CNPA awards for writing, photography and overall excellence over the years, but this is our first win in both the coveted best public journalism and best investigative reporting categories.

The germ for “Gaming the System” arrived in the form of elderly Claremont homeowners Glyn and Alison Roberts telling Rhodes about a shockingly high bill for a plumbing repair. Exploring how and why Rooter Hero charged so much led Rhodes on a trail involving state regulatory agencies, lawyers, online fraud experts, fellow plumbers, former employees, angry customers and the plumbing chain’s chief operating officer. His reporting eventually uncovered a raft of illegal business practices designed to fraudulently prop up Rooter Hero’s online reputation in order to lure customers.

Rhodes has won several CNPA awards, including in 2020, when he was recognized for best profile story in the state for “Family Shattered by Opiate Addiction.” A link to that story is here:

The CNPA will roll out the remainder of its 2021 awards over this week and next. To follow the announcements, go to its Twitter page at



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