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About AHCJ: General News

Association announces winners of 2020 health journalism contest Date: 04/06/21

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 journalism contest, reflecting how well the profession explained the new coronavirus and how officials responded to it.

Seven of the 12 first-place winners focused on aspects of the pandemic. The contest drew 451 total entries, with strong interest in all divisions.

Lisa Krieger, science and research reporter for the Mercury News in San Jose, won first place in the beat reporting category for a set of compelling pieces about the crisis, including how the virus infects people, why there were so few treatments and why scientists believed vaccines could be successful.

“Lisa Krieger recognized this story earlier than most and explained it clearly, drawing real patients into almost every piece,” the contest judges wrote.

ProPublica was a big winner in the annual contest, taking first place in three categories.

The ProPublica staff won first place in the large-publication investigative division for “Inside the Fall of the CDC,” a damning account of how politicization hamstrung the agency’s response to the coronavirus. Judges called the project “an exercise in extensive and detailed reporting on the biggest public policy issue of the year. ProPublica documented with emails, public records, and dogged interviewing a story that many thought they knew but couldn’t nail down.”

ProPublica also won first place in the business category, with the series, “On the Line ­­-- How the Meatpacking Industry Became a Hotbed of COVID-19.” Contest judges praised how reporters Michael Grabell and Bernice Yeung used open-records requests and dogged reporting to document what happened.

ProPublica won yet another first-place 2020 AHCJ award for “The Black Amputation Epidemic,” by Lizzie Presser. The large-outlet health policy category entry described how and why Black Americans with diabetes have limbs amputated at triple the normal rate.

The Washington Post’s William Wan took first place in the large-publication consumer feature division, with “Shadow Pandemic,” an examination of the mental health and substance abuse effects of the crisis.

Bram Sable-Smith, a reporting fellow for Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Public Radio, took the top prize in the small-publication health policy division for “Lives on Hold,” which showed how the state’s unemployment system failed people who needed it during the pandemic.

In the trade category, Bloomberg Industry Group’s Lydia Wheeler, Paige Smith and Andrew Satter won first place for “COVID Long-Haulers and Their Lingering Medical Bills.”

The contest’s student category, which was in its third year, continued to draw strong interest. The top prize went to a team of students from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, based at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism. The team’s entry was “COVID’s Invisible Victims,” which looked at how the pandemic affected homeless Americans. “The reporting is resourceful, the writing lucid and affecting, and the data analysis compelling,” the judges wrote.

Health care journalists were plenty busy before the pandemic hit, and the countless other issues they covered continued to be important in 2020.

Staff from Columbia Journalism Investigations and the Center for Public Integrity teamed up to produce “Hidden Epidemics,” which won first place in the large-publication public health division. The series outlined how climate change is already harming human health, including by causing deadly heat waves.

Freelancer Kate Silver won first place in the small-publication consumer feature division, with “Learning from the Dead: The Enduring Gift of Donating a Body to Science.”

Sara Israelsen-Hartley of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City won first place in the small-publication public health division for “Radon: The Radioactive Killer,” which looked at the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

The entries were judged by more than four dozen journalists, journalism instructors and retired journalism professionals.

See the full list of winners and the judge’s comments here.