The Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism recognize the best health reporting in print, broadcast and online media. The contest is run by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups.
The contest features a variety of categories and entries can include a wide range of health coverage including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics.
Contest entrants fill out a questionnaire that details how they reported the work they are submitting. AHCJ posts those questionnaires with the entries, allowing other journalists to learn about new sources, get story ideas and do similar reporting in their own communities.
Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2018 winners
- Beat Reporting
- Trade Publications/Newsletters
- Investigative (large)
- Investigative (small)
- Consumer/Feature (large)
- Consumer/Feature (small)
- Health Policy (large)
- Health Policy (small)
- Public Health (large)
- Public Health (small)
First Place: 2018 Body of Work; Lesley McClurg, KQED
McClurg strives to report timely medical science stories that help listeners and readers make smart health decisions. Under the broad umbrella of medical science, the coverage focuses on cutting edge treatments, unusual scientific discoveries, news you can use, and California advancements that influence the national agenda. The five stories for this entry are creatively reported through driving narratives and compelling science that's easy to understand.
Judges' comments: A series of compelling radio reports. She offers moving personal stories while at the same time seeking out experts who provide needed perspective and caveats.
Second Place: 2018 Body of Work; Sammy Mack, WLRN
As the health reporter at WLRN, the NPR member station for South Florida, Mack's beat is health policy with a sense of place. In each of these stories, someone makes a decision that affects someone else's health. That's the through line — be it a story about needle exchange policies, an explainer on health insurance products, research about inmate access to surgery, or a diary of the trauma carried by a young survivor of a school shooting. The WLRN approach to health care storytelling is to think about who has power, what the stakes are, and how those upstream decisions affect the experience and health of people who live with the outcome.
Third Place: 2018 Body of Work; Stacey Burling, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Stacey Burling is a medical reporter who covers aging as well as general medical stories. All of these stories disproportionately affect older people.
First Place: How Facebook and Twitter could be the next disruptive force in clinical trials; Heidi Ledford, Nature
The story illustrates how clinical trial participants are using social media to trade insights and comfort — sometimes in ways that can threaten the integrity of a study. Participants in the trial may band together to unblind the study, for example, by determining who is receiving the placebo treatment as opposed to the experimental therapy. What drew me to this story is how it lays bare a fundamental tension in clinical research. Researchers and participants alike are fuelled by a desire to help others. But there is a point at which their interests diverge: a researcher’s need for clean, interpretable data, for example, can conflict with a participant’s need to benefit from access to a new therapy.
Second Place: At the Intersection of Autism and Trauma; Lauren Gravitz, Spectrum
An investigation into the connection between autism and trauma they share a number of symptoms, and can often co-occur, but researchers are only just now beginning to tease apart the causes and effects. Autistic people are often more vulnerable to PTSD, and may be more likely to be exposed to traumatic conditions (abuse, neglect, and more).
Yet PTSD may also manifest completely differently in someone with autism than it does in neurotypical individuals, leaving doctors either unaware of the condition or unclear on how best to help, as few have studied autism-specific treatments for trauma. Finally, however, a number of new projects aim to untangle this complicated knot. This article is, to our knowledge, the first time any reporter has delved into this long-ignored topic.
Third Place: Survivors Cast Adrift; Sue Rochman, Cancer Today Magazine
Asking oncologists to provide survivorship care plans to help patients navigate future medical needs seemed like a slam dunk. More than a decade after an Institute of Medicine report recommended the plans, many cancer patients still don’t have them. This article explains how and why this situation occurred and the implications for cancer survivors.
First Place: Implant Files; Staff, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Avrotros, NBC, AP and partners
For decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s medical-device approval system has allowed defective implants to spill, like contaminated water from a broken pipe, onto the market. Many of those products have remained on hospital shelves, and in patient bodies, long after problems were detected. On Sunday, November 25, 2018, ICIJ, the Associated Press, NBC News and more than 50 media partners around the world published a year-long investigation that shows regulators bowing to industry pressure to rush approvals, lower safety standards and cloak critical information, and the consequences: a string of grisly accidents that have left hundreds of thousands disfigured, disabled or dead. Our team, which grew to include more than 250 journalists in 36 countries, found artificial hips that corrode flesh and poison blood, spinal-cord stimulators that shock and permanently injure and surgical mesh that cuts into tissue, causing chronic pain and bleeding — all greenlit through a FDA approval pathway known as 510(k) that allows manufacturers to launch new devices based, not on human testing, but on their similarity to older products.
Judges' comments: This series did a masterful job of spotlighting gaping holes in the system of regulating medical devices. The reporting team managed to analyze a tremendous amount of data as well as use compelling and disturbing individual examples – and together, they explain how a coziness between industry and regulators has led to a breakdown of oversight on a global scale. The series shows how politics and money often overshadow health and safety, in the context of the recent weakening of consumer protections.
Second Place: Pain and Profit; J. David McSwane, Andrew Chavez and Leslie Eaton, The Dallas Morning News
When Texas turned over the care of sick and disabled people to giant health care companies, they made billions of dollars as they systematically denied life-sustaining drugs and treatments – often with dire consequences for patients. The Dallas Morning News exposed systemic problems with the way Texas provides health care for its most vulnerable citizens through Medicaid managed care. The series showed how years of inept state regulation allowed corporations to profit even as they skimped on treatment for thousands of sick kids and disabled adults, with life-threatening results. And how Texas health officials hid the full extent of the problems from the public.
Third Place: Dr. Death; Laura Beil, Wondery and ProPublica
This story examined the case of Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon who practiced in Dallas from 2011 to 2013. He earned the nickname Dr. Death after the vast majority of his patients ended up severely injured. Two died. The story not only looks at Duntsch's actions, but how the health care system, starting with his medical school and residency program, was complicit in the tragedy. He was passed on from hospital to hospital – he worked at 4 total – who chose to get rid of their problem surgeon by quietly letting him go. The story leaves the question: if the system can't protect people from a surgeon this bad, who does it protect us from?
First Place: Hustling Hope; Cheryl Clark, Lorie Hearn, Megan Wood, inewsource.org
Hustling Hope explored a national network of “Trina Health” clinics that promoted a “miraculous” infusion procedure said to reverse complications from diabetes: neuropathy, hypertension, heart disease, kidney/liver damage, wounds leading to amputations and cognitive impairment. Even erectile dysfunction would be history after a few four-hour weekly sessions. And, the clinics advertised, Medicare and health plans covered it.
The investigation found, right at the start, that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services after an exhaustive review in 2009, had issued a national decision there was insufficient evidence the IV procedure, dubbed “OIVIT,” benefited patients and declined to pay for it. Claims were to be submitted under a non-reimbursed G code. Insurance companies generally follow Medicare's rules. Nevertheless, Trina clinics had popped up in 16 states, including San Diego where a prominent research endocrinologist suggested reporter Clark take a critical look. Coincidentally, Clark had just posted her story about a spike in diabetes-related amputations. The Facebook algorithm—keying on the word amputations—inserted a Trina clinic ad into her feed.
Judges' comments: Cheryl Clark received a tip from a doctor about a network of infusion clinics offering questionable treatments for diabetes complications. Clark and her colleagues investigated the clinics and founder G. Ford Gilbert, and discovered Medicare and other insurers would not pay for these unproven -- and potentially harmful -- treatments. She looked into how the clinics were franchised, profiling one investor couple, and explored the involvement of a prominent physician. As inewsource was completing its story, Gilbert was arrested in Alabama on related bribery charges. A number of clinics have since closed or rebranded.
Second Place: The Forgotten: An investigation into an assisted living facility; Katie O'Connor, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Virginia Mercury
In October 2017, Katie O'Connor got a call from a woman who said she has been giving food to people she thought were homeless for over a year. She reached out to the local newspaper because she had recently discovered something surprising: They weren't homeless. They were residents of an assisted-living facility called Jones & Jones, and the vast majority of them were receiving state funds to live there. But every day residents would walk to the nearby busy intersection and panhandle for money because they weren't given their monthly allowance, they didn't get enough food, and they had to get away from the bed bugs that left scars all over their faces. On multiple occasions, the residents, who were mentally and physically handicapped, were hit by cars near that intersection. At least three died. Though local police officers and one city councilwoman were aware of the problems, nothing was done to address it. Assisted living facilities in Virginia are overseen by the state, and Jones & Jones had racked up hundreds of violations in just the four years for which complaint data was available.
First Place: Fatal Flaws: How Kentucky Is Failing Its Workers; Eleanor Klibanoff, Jeff Young and Jim Morris, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and the Center for Public Integrity
Kentucky's worker safety program failed to properly investigate nearly every on-the-job death for two years. The victims were tree trimmers, public-works employees, construction workers, home health aides. They died in jobs everyone knows to be dangerous and in jobs you might attend every day without considering whether you'd make it home. But in almost every case, the state's Occupational Safety and Health program didn't do enough to determine if a business was responsible for unsafe conditions — never mind actually hold them accountable. With a record like that, you'd think this issue would be in every newspaper and on every politician's lips. But virtually no one outside the agency and advocacy world was clued in until we published “Fatal Flaws,” our comprehensive investigation into these failings.
Judges' comments: Fatal Flaws is a powerful combination of legwork, data journalism and storytelling. The collaborative nature of this work demonstrates the kind of journalism good teamwork can produce. The data journalism in this series is particularly strong, but combining it with equally compelling narratives put this story over the top. The audio complemented the stories, making this important work accessible to multiple audiences. The graphic presentation attached a name and details to each incident, making each death a person, not just a statistic.
Second Place: The Treatment Gap; Abby Goodnough, The New York Times
The Treatment Gap is a series of five articles that focused on an aspect of the opioid epidemic that doesn’t get nearly enough scrutiny: the deep shortcomings in treatment for Americans addicted to painkillers and heroin, as well as promising approaches that remain widely underused. Through detailed portraits of doctors and patients, the series explained how opioid addiction is treated — or, too often, left to fester — by health care providers.
Third Place: Risking It; John Tozzi, Aziza Kasumov, Zach Tracer, Bloomberg News
Five years after the Affordable Care Act began offering new insurance options to millions of Americans, Bloomberg decided to launch a deep examination of how effective it had been in covering people, and trying to understand why so many people were still without health insurance, or were in plans that still left them in financial distress. We started out with a dozen families who had chosen not to go uninsured, planning to follow them for the year, but the project rapidly expanded after the online survey tool we developed to ask people to share their stories returned thousands of responses (see answer to question four for detail), creating a huge database of new story leads. We concluded that the problems of insurance affordability reached high up into the middle class, affecting a far wider spectrum of income than we had first assumed. We gained a deep understanding of the frustration of people who could afford insurance, but had done the math and decided it wasn't a good deal for them. And we concluded that many Americans were just as frustrated with their health-care choices as they were when the Affordable Care Act became law.
First Place: Prostate Cancer: 1 in 7; Larry Pynn, The Vancouver Sun
An authoritative look at prostate cancer, affecting one in seven men, including a detailed look at the disease, treatment options and their side effects, the latest research, and how it impacts individual lives.
Judges' comments: Story was an unflinchingly honest look at an issue that affects many men – and the women with whom they share their lives. As one of the judges (who is a woman) noted: "There are few topics more consumer-oriented than the health and welfare of the penis."
Second Place: Genetic testing goes mainstream; Tina Hesman Saey, Science News
The series explores the science behind consumer DNA testing for both health and ancestry purposes. Tina Hesman Saey submitted her DNA to eight different testing companies and explores the widespread discrepancies in the various companies' results. She also draws on the personal stories of other consumers as well as results from scientific studies to explore the burgeoning world of DNA testing.
Third Place: Alzheimer's Under Attack; Linda Marsa, Discover Magazine
Big Pharma has spent tens of millions of dollars searching for a drug to halt Alzheimer's, and the huge dollars spent greatly influenced the direction of research into treatments. However, 99 percent of these drugs have flopped miserably in clinical trials.
But an entirely other story was quietly emerging from longitudinal population studies that shed light on what may be a better way to slow or halt the progression of the disease: aggressively treating the underlying risks factors for Alzheimer's, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic stress, poor health habits, exposure to infectious agents or environmental toxins, can slow the disease's progression.
Health Policy (large)
First Place: Stuck Kids; Duaa Eldeib, ProPublica, co-published by The Atlantic.
Hundreds of children spent weeks and sometimes months in psychiatric hospitals after doctors had cleared them for release. As they waited for the state’s child welfare agency to find them more appropriate homes, they deteriorated mentally and behaviorally, fell far behind in school and were unable to go outside. These children, who already carried trauma that brought them into the state’s custody, were trapped inside locked facilities, despite a state law mandating that children in state care live in the “least restrictive” setting.
Judges' comments: This investigation focused on hundreds of Illinois children kept in psychiatric confinement even after they were cleared to leave. The story – which highlighted the experiences of several individual children – was heart-wrenching in its detail of how that unnecessary time in the hospitals can result in mental and behavioral deterioration as the children waited for the state's child welfare agency to find them appropriate homes. The reporting project analyzed records and data on nearly 6,000 psychiatric hospitalizations of children and determined that 20 percent of them had been held “beyond medical necessity." The report resulted in legislative hearings, the appointment of a special monitor by a federal judge, a lawsuit by the Cook County guardian, an investigation by the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and actions by federal authorities to pull the funding of those institutions with the great levels of abuse.
Second Place: Deprived of Care: When ERs Break the Law; Brenda Goodman and Andy Miller, WebMD and Georgia Health News
The family of a man having a heart attack couldn’t get anyone in the ER to treat him, so they called 911 from the emergency room to try to get him seen sooner. He died soon after they checked him into the hospital. A motorcycle accident victim was rushed to his local ER. There was no doctor available to treat him. He died of his injuries. A woman needed surgery to repair a hole in her colon, but the on-call specialist refused to treat her. She later died of sepsis.
These are some of the cases examined in the investigative report, “Deprived of Care: When ERs Break the Law.” The collaboration by WebMD and Georgia Health News looks at violations of a 1986 federal law passed to prevent “patient dumping” by hospitals – most often of poor, uninsured, patients – and to protect women in labor.
Third Place: What happens when an algorithm cuts your health care; Colin Lecher, The Verge
In 2016, the state of Arkansas implemented a new program to determine Medicaid benefits for eligible residents. The program used an algorithm developed by a Michigan university professor to decide how many hours per week a caretaker would visit a home, part of a crucial safety net for some of the state’s sickest people. Our reporting showed how flaws in the system had erroneously and drastically cut hours for people in the state, but it also went further, demonstrating how similar problems have appeared in states around the country, including in Idaho and Colorado. The article also demonstrated how complex mathematical formulas effectively cut beneficiaries off from the appeals process, even in cases where errors occurred.
Health Policy (small)
First Place: A Fragile State; Staff, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
“A Fragile State” investigated Louisiana’s failing mental health system to explore how the state’s systematic dismantling of its public mental health care structure has impacted families and communities. Reporters followed a father, Reggie, as he cared for his adult son with schizophrenia through repeated hospitalizations and fractured care. Through the eyes of a devoted mother named Hope, they explain how dwindling resources and stigma in rural communities contributed to her son’s suicide. With the story of a military veteran in north Louisiana killed in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies called to escort him to a VA hospital, reporters examined whether law enforcement agencies across the state are prepared for a growing number of mental health crisis calls. We sought public records from every one of the state’s law enforcement agencies and found that only 62 of the 146 that responded had adopted policies to guide officers on responding to mental health crisis calls.
Judges' comments: In an occasional series published between September and December, the staff of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported a raft of articles that showed in heartbreaking detail some results of the state’s massive cost-cutting in mental health in the last decade and beyond. When psychiatric hospitals were shut down -- and the state government failed to provide promised community based services -- the severely mentally ill were left with no place to go; they weren’t the only ones who paid a heavy price.
Reporters deconstructed acts of violence, from suicides to attacks on others, by people who had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other severe illnesses. The staff sought public records from every police agency in the state to show that many deaths could have been prevented if reliable mental-health care had been accessible and if police had been better trained.
The series has led to beefed-up training by many law-enforcement agencies; debate in the current legislative session on gun laws and mental-health coverage; establishment of a civil mental health court in New Orleans, and ongoing forums by concerned citizens.
Second Place: American Epidemic; Melinda Wenner Moyer, Scientific American
Infectious diseases are tearing through American cities right now. We are in the midst of the worst hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history; the incidence of all three nationally reported sexually transmitted diseases have recently reached record highs; cases of cyclosporiasis, a parasitic illness, doubled between 2016 and 2017; rates of hepatitis C have nearly tripled over the past five years; in 2017, New York City saw a record number of cases of Legionnaire's Disease. These outbreaks, I argue in my piece, are driven by rising income inequality and the economic policies that drive it, as well as by changes to and strains on urban infrastructure.
Third Place: Colombia: After the Violence; Sara Reardon, Greg Kendall-Ball, Adam Levy, Nature
In 2016, Colombia ended a decades-long civil war when it signed a peace agreement with the left-wing FARC rebels. Its terms provided for rehabilitation programmes to support tens of thousands of guerrilla fighters as they reintegrate into society. The entire programme is a grand experiment on an unprecedented scale, and affords scientists and health workers a unique opportunity to study the psychological impacts of violence and isolation. Their findings could serve as a template – or a cautionary tale – for other countries trying to rehabilitate terrorists. More importantly, they could lead to better treatment for the guerrillas themselves, although some question the government’s ability and willingness to do so.
Public Health (large)
First Place: Half-Life; Rebecca Moss, Santa Fe New Mexican
Over the course of a year Rebecca Moss investigated ongoing worker health and safety issues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, finding that lab contractors have amassed more than $110 million in fines and lost performance bonuses for serious accidents, radiation exposure, and other lapses since 2006. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the government has made it difficult for workers to get compensation for radiation-linked cancers. The government says nuclear safety issues were only a Cold War problem, but workers say the lab has not accurately tracked their radiation exposure and they are being denied benefits as a result. Moss examined the medical and work records of Chad Walde, a maintenance worker who started at Los Alamos in 1999, and who was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer and died in 2017 at age 44.
Judges' comments: In Half-Life, Rebecca Moss sheds light on a national problem through the eyes of her local community. Her touching account of Chad Walde’s Los Alamos career, illness and death personifies the everyday Americans who serve their country’s nuclear ambitions, perhaps to their personal detriment. Moss then turns her sights outward to give readers well-sourced information on how the government has responded to the cancers and related illness seen more frequently in workers like Chad Walde.
Second Place: Deadly Deliveries; Alison Young, Laura Ungar, John Kelly, USA Today
While much of the national discussion around the United States’ abysmal rate of maternal deaths and injuries has focused on the larger societal ills such as obesity and access to prenatal care, Deadly Deliveries zeroed in on one shocking and uncomfortable truth: Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.
Across the nation, women giving birth needlessly die and suffer life-altering injuries because of substandard medical care, the USA Today investigation revealed. At some hospitals, internal records show that less than 15 percent of new mothers experiencing common yet dangerous emergencies promptly received treatments known to save lives. USA Today further revealed that state maternal death review committees frequently don’t scrutinize the medical care that mothers received in the days and hours before they died – instead focusing on women’s lifestyles or society’s problems.
Third Place: Cultivating a Community; James E. Causey and Angela Peterson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
In Milwaukee’s poorest ZIP code, fruits and vegetables become powerful weapons for saving young boys – This was the main story that examined how actor-turned-activist Andre Lee Ellis uses an urban garden in the heart of the state’s most disadvantaged ZIP code to address trauma in youth. Many of the mentors in his “We Got This” program grew up in the area. Operating on a shoestring budget, Ellis raises enough to pay each boy $20 per week for their work in the garden. The story puts faces to the much-discussed issue of trauma faced by those living in violent and unstable urban neighborhoods – and explores why it is so hard to tackle.
Public Health (small)
First Place: Malaria's Ticking Time Bomb; Amy Maxmen, Nature
Malaria is on the rise in northeastern Cambodia — and it’s becoming increasingly drug-resistant. Although Southeast Asia accounts for just 7 percent of malaria cases worldwide, it has a notorious history as the breeding ground for strains of malaria parasites that survive every drug thrown at them — and spread. If resistance to the latest gold-standard cure for malaria hits Africa, deaths will skyrocket. Already, the disease kills roughly half a billion people every year. In 2015, the governments of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar pledged to eliminate the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum from the region by 2025.
Amy Maxmen traveled to three of these countries to see how the effort is going. What she found worried her. Researchers had recently discovered that diagnostic tests only detect a small fraction of symptomatic cases. More sensitive tests revealed that entire populations carried parasites in their blood. Finding and treating these asymptomatic cases will be logistically difficult and expensive.
Judges' comments: A truly engaging Nature article that blended enough plain English with scientific jargon to make the concept of vector-borne malaria accessible to the layman or woman. This quote really stood out to me: "Doctors said it was like watching a couple of Boeing 747 planes crash every day." It's obvious the journalist is a seasoned science writer with a keen ear and eye for striking color.
Second Place: Catching Fever; Lois Parshley, Scientific American
Climate change is accelerating the spread of disease — and making it much harder to predict outbreaks. So I went to South Africa to follow a team of the first researchers trying to use climatic models to predict when the zoonotic virus, Rift Valley Fever, will occur.
Third Place: The Children of Central City; Staff, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
“The Children of Central City” followed a youth football team of 9- and 10-year-olds in one of New Orleans’ most violent neighborhoods, as a way to explore how trauma, specifically crime and poverty, impacted their health and well-being and what therapeutic resources were available in the community. The reporting highlighted a prevalence of trauma in Central City: more than half of children surveyed knew someone close to them who had been murdered; 1 in 5 had seen someone killed; and 4 in 10 had seen someone shot, stabbed or beaten. Such trauma can change how a child’s brain operates, cause physical ailments and disabilities, and be passed on to future generations. Yet quality resources to assist these families are scarce in New Orleans due to state budget cuts, a fractured network of independent charter schools, and the long-standing stigma of mental illness.
First Place: Rogue Vaccine Series; Marisa A. Taylor, Kaiser Health News
Marisa Taylor's series of stories exposed a rogue, unethical and illegal vaccine experiment overseen by a tenured American professor with the complicity of his university, Southern Illinois University, and his company. The series found that Americans received shots, containing the untested vaccine, in a house on a Caribbean island and in U.S. hotel rooms, with no official oversight by the FDA or conventional monitoring by an Institutional Review Board. Although the professor, William Halford, had injected Americans with a live virus without the required oversight, he received support from his university and funding from billionaire and President Trump supporter Peter Thiel. Taylor revealed the university – which consistently said it had no role in what was private research by a professor – shared in the patents on the prospective vaccine.
Judges' comments: The persistence and journalistic detective work that went into uncovering this scandal were extraordinary. The series exposed egregious institutional malpractice that stayed under the radar until the reporter began asking hard questions.
Second Place: Lifeline Offline: Unreliable internet, cell service hurting Pennsylvania's health; Kris Mamula and Jessie Wardarski, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One million homes in Pennsylvania do not have access to high-speed broadband access, mostly in rural areas, which significantly impacts public health, emergency dispatch and the economy.
Third Place: Deadly Chinese Fentanyl Is Creating a New Era of Drug Kingpins; Esme' E. Deprez, Li Hui, Ken Wills, Bloomberg News
Reporters and editors from six bureaus in North America and Asia teamed up for this investigation into the global supply chain of fentanyl and its rise to become one of the world’s deadliest and most profitable narcotics. The narrative weaves together on-the-ground reportage, information from hundreds of pages of court documents and government reports and dozens of interviews – including the first (and still only) media interview with one of the world’s most-wanted accused kingpins himself – to show how black-market businessmen and rogue chemists have transformed the international drug trade, upended global policing, and left behind a public health catastrophe in their wake. The story gives readers an exclusive, behind the scenes look into how investigators built what has become one of the most important and far-reaching attempts to prosecute the profit-seekers fueling the devastating opioid epidemic.
First Place: Tweaking Drug Trial Design in the Hunt for the FDA’s Green Light; Ashley Lyles, Dan Robitzski and Cici Zhang, Undark
Reporters investigated the FDA’s approval of three drugs: flibanserin (Addyi), rofecoxib (Vioxx) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) by poring over public records and medical data from the FDA-sponsored experiments and other documents about the drugs, and interviewing medical experts, some of whom work at the FDA or conducted those clinical trials. What they found was that the FDA accepted and sometimes insisted on weak scientific methodology and approved these drugs even though the FDA knew the drugs were dangerous and might not even work.
Judges' comments: This in-depth piece builds a persuasive case that should strike fear in the hearts of consumers: that the FDA is more interested in serving pharmaceutical companies than patient safety, and the evidence is in the way the agency allows the goal posts to be moved in clinical trials. Drawing on public records, FDA data, documents and interviews with numerous sources who have firsthand knowledge of the process, the student reporters show how weak oversight is and how often drug approvals are fast-tracked, sometimes with harmful effects. It’s an important and authoritatively reported story with life-and-death consequences.
Second Place: Life on the Spectrum; Aviva Okeson-Haberman and Kyra Haas, KBIA-Columbia, Mo.
Through the experiences of five Mid-Missouri families, the reporters painted portraits of what it’s like raising a child with autism. The diagnosis covers a wide range of behaviors, meaning caregivers of people with autism also have a spectrum of experiences. While each caregiver faced individual challenges, many expressed feelings of anxiety, isolation and concern for the future.
Third Place: Are pets good or bad for your child’s allergies?; Emiliano Rodriguez Mega, Scienceline
The idea that pets were bad for kids gained traction with a 1997 in Germany. These findings led to the belief that avoiding any kind of early-life exposure to pets could spare children from developing allergies to animals. In the early 2000s, however, an opposing trend emerged. A number of studies and systematic reviews started to suggest what at first seemed counterintuitive: exposure to pets in the very early stages of life might confer protective benefits and prevent the development of allergic rhinitis, asthma and a skin condition called eczema. This piece looks at all available scientific evidence to try to answer the question of whether early pet exposure prevents or triggers allergic reactions in children.