In April, Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times were awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for their work exposing Washington’s financially motivated practice of routinely prescribing methadone, a deadly pain drug, for people in state-subsidized health care.
Berens and Armstrong donated the $10,000 Pulitzer Prize money to the newsroom to be earmarked for staff training. Part of the money was used to send four Times staff members to the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors in Boston. The remainder of the money will be used for training throughout the year at the newspaper.
Berens’ website, watchdogreporter.com, includes links to some of his favorite websites as well as his handouts on things like a project checklist, developing a strategy to find the story and interview techniques.
Here is a Q & A with AHCJ member Berens:
YEARS COVERING HEALTH:
About 15 years, off and on
Investigative, watchdog, enterprise projects
RECENT STORIES INCLUDE:
Seniors for Sale, which revealed that thousands of vulnerable adults have been exploited by profiteers inside thousands of loosely licensed adult family homes, often with deadly results
Miracle Machines, exposing the deadly proliferation of bogus medical devices that slipped by FDA oversight; one device was FDA-sanctioned and sold by a federal fugitive
Culture of Resistance, which tracked the rise and spread of an antibiotic-resistant germ to hospitals with inadequate infection control standards
FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB:
Someone actually pays me to do this
LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB:
That any given day I might not have one
STORY YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF:
How do you pick a favorite child? However, my last story on methadone and pain struck a deep chord with readers. One man detailed how he had read the stories at work and immediately raced to the phone to warn his wife who was taking the pain medication – she had exhibited symptoms of a potential overdose that day. Connecting with readers, saving lives and reforming the system – these are the goals that propel me to the next story.
PREVIOUS JOURNALISM JOBS:
Chicago Tribune and The Columbus Dispatch
IF YOU WEREN’T A JOURNALIST YOU’D BE:
IN YOUR FREE TIME YOU:
Rescue leather-bound books from used-book stores
WHAT YOU’RE READING:
The Presidents Club (Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy); Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo)
ONE THING YOUR COLLEAGUES DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU:
I keep a retired AP wire machine (circa 1980s) as a decoration in my home