Can children learn if their schools are places where violence and chaos can erupt at any moment? This powerhouse of a series opens with teenage girls smearing Vaseline on their faces and tying their hair back in bandanas to prepare for a fight. Anecdote by anecdote, bureaucratic failure by bureaucratic failure, "Assault on Learning" aggressively exposes the treacherous conditions within Philadelphia public schools -- a state of toxic stress and fear that contributes to the dropout crisis -- as well as the utter ineffectiveness of adults and leaders to stop it. Within five months after reporting began, the superintendent was gone, schools started operating more transparently and the system got serious about reform. This series also spotlighted what was working well at individual schools, showing how positive leadership can create a safe place for children and education. Judges praised the series for its depth of analysis, the successful coordination and editing of so many reporters working on a complicated topic. They wrote,“when mainstream media puts its resources behind an issue, this can be the result.”
A working mother leaves her precious infant with a home-based day care in her neighborhood only to receive a call from police that her baby has been taken to the hospital, unresponsive. A year of investigative work yielded a powerful series about unlicensed, home-based day care providers who were responsible for the deaths of 41 children, yet went unpunished and were allowed to continue operating. The majority of these baby deaths were the result of unsafe sleeping practices; infants were put down for naps on beds, on their bellies, surrounded by suffocating pillows, stuffed animals and other dangers. As a result of this series, bills to enhance safety in childcare settings are under consideration in the Missouri legislature. Judges called the series “gripping” and “effective” and praised the journalist’s sensitivity and her use of social media and old-fashioned reporting to find the families who lost their beloved babies to caregiver and regulatory neglect.
This highly readable and thoroughly reported series deftly exposes waste, mismanagement and abuse within a $10 billion federal program. The reporter found faces and figures to support anecdotal claims that the Supplemental Security Income program had, as she writes, “gone seriously astray, becoming an alternative welfare system with troubling built-in incentives that risk harm to children.” Dogged reporting reveals that parents are willing to label their children “disabled,” despite its limiting nature, as long as the diagnosis came with a paycheck; that SSI workers blindly pay benefits years after a childhood diagnosis; and teens are motivated to continue the cycle because their families can’t afford to lose the benefit. Her reporting led to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
This project gave voices to a vulnerable population of profoundly disabled children and young adults who were first failed by their families, then by their caretakers at Alden Village North and finally by the state investigators who allowed the “deadly neglect” to continue, taking note of violations and assessing fines, but doing little else. This is what newspapers are supposed to do: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, saving as many lives as possible in the process.
These elegantly written slices of life illuminate sad, tough realities. The reporter picks extreme examples to drive home universal family themes of love, loss, insecurity and possibility. The tales reflect the world and are likely to spark both conversation and introspection.
By chronicling decades of rape, starvation and the hog-tying of students, the six-part series exposes Florida’s oldest reform school for what it really is: a medieval-style prison for children, still open for business today, still funded by the state of Florida. The St. Petersburg Times weaves storytelling and hard facts to paint a haunting picture of the childhoods lost in the swamps, with stories and images that remain with the reader. Meticulous reporting, unflinching photographs, uncensored language and scores of documents create a victory for generations of victims whose lives have been wrecked by the abuse and whose voices had gone unheard.
The Chicago Tribune reveals the dark side of special treatment in this series on the stunning abuses of power wielded by officials at the University of Illinois, the state’s premier public university. The blow-by-blow account of a well-entrenched, secret admissions system reads like a court case, complete with damning e-mail exchanges and statistics. The investigation, which led to a slew of dismissals, will likely help bring opportunities to thousands of students and their families.
The Chicago Tribune courageously challenges doctors who peddle alternative autism remedies to parents desperate for help. Through inquisitive, fact-based reporting, the series exposes the flimsy science behind the anecdotal testimonials that underpin uncontrolled experimentation on children.
USA Today spent eight months investigating the impact of industrial pollution on the air outside schools and its toxic effect on children. The project deserves top recognition for its commitment to a demanding, nationwide investigation as well as its exemplary use of database and computer-assisted reporting. The team used the government’s own database and research and then mobilized their own resources to gather comprehensive data on air quality to analyze exposure and toxicity. The project is a prime example of both public service journalism and classic investigative reporting.
This series on the poultry industry pulls the curtain back on many hidden issues: worker safety, industrial food production, immigration violations and lax government oversight. The Observer’s team spent 22 months analyzing government safety data, reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing more than 200 poultry workers, many of whom were undocumented workers and afraid to speak out. By holding the powerful accountable, The Charlotte Observer’s enterprising investigation shows why strong local newspapers are so vital.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was one of the first to take on the issue of chemicals in consumer products. The series set off a frenzy of legislative activity around Biphenyl A and other chemicals used in plastic baby products. Eventually, it led to a ban on BPA in some states and restrictions on another class of chemicals, known as phthalates.
This series features very aggressive gumshoe reporting on the serious problems for children posed by unsafe products – and on the woeful inadequacy of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This is journalism at its best – a reporter following a hunch that leads down one hell of a highway. Everything is here: great writing, poignant human stories, document trails, revelations of malfeasance and public service. The fallout will be felt for years, and children will undoubtedly be a lot safer.
This project shed a great deal of light on the science and ethics behind a challenging procedure: when parents create a baby who can become a medical donor for a gravely ill sibling. The articles and the accompanying photographs take readers on a powerful voyage into a very personal corner of one family’s life, with far-reaching implications. Gaining the trust of this family was a remarkable feat – and led to remarkable journalism.
In this effective series, the Inquirer thoroughly documented the Philadelphia Department of Human Service’s callous neglect of abused children it was charged with protecting. When officials refused to provide information on many cases, the reporters combed neighborhoods to give the stories scope and depth. Response was significant: Moved by the children’s stories and nailed by the hard-nosed reporting, state legislators toughened laws and city officials had no choice option but to clean house at the agency.
Artfully written and filled with rich details, the project gives a clear picture of sexual violence experienced by one young woman and speaks for others whose stories remain in the shadows.
Beyond their dogged coverage of breaking news – the discovery of a video documenting a teen’s fatal beating in detention – the Herald reporters dug into the deeper story of an abusive system and helped bring about its demise.
This enlightening, comprehensive package may be the most precise and nuanced statistical portrait of dropouts that has yet been done in a big-city school system. The articles effectively illuminate some of the economic and cultural factors buffeting individual choices, while continually emphasizing what is at stake: the future of flawed, complex, promising kids.
This investigation of group homes was thoroughly reported, clearly written and its findings were cause for outrage. It also spurred reforms and set the stage for better protection of vulnerable young people.
Remarkable storytelling demonstrating sensitivity toward and insight about its two young, homeless subjects, while avoiding sentimentality.
After a brutal rape sent her into depression, Barbara Paul struggled with an already tenuous grip on motherhood. Neither an addict nor an abuser, Paul nonetheless was found by the state of Massachusetts to be an unfit mother. Charges of parental neglect led her two sons, ages 8 and 13, into foster care and then adoptions to which she reluctantly agreed. Wen’s account is carefully detailed and beautifully, sparingly written, illuminating a rarely seen corner of the child welfare system and its effects on a lost family.
The story of Tangela Smith, a former crack addict desperate to prove that she could be a competent parent, brings the important issues of family court into stark relief. Honorable mention: Sewell Chan and Scott Higham, The Washington Post, “Homes of Last Resort.” The reporters pried open secret files in this tremendous enterprise project, shaking Washington, D.C.’s youth services agency and prompting reforms.
An outstanding project that documented the ill effects of treating troubled youths as criminals rather than providing them with effective mental health treatment, social skill building and job training. Twedt did a tremendous amount of legwork to open the system and tell the stories of incarcerated youths. He also tells the larger story of what the decline in psychiatric facilities and services means for society. An important piece in the series highlighted a Wisconsin program that makes myriad services available to case managers, letting readers know about successful alternatives for dealing with troubled children.
The Star-Ledger's three-part series peels back layers of a catastrophic, seemingly intractable problem: last year 7,000 children in the state had enough lead in their blood “to impair their ability to think, concentrate and learn.” Another 30,000 may be poisoned but haven't been tested. The newspaper took the time and expended the resources to deliver a minutely detailed 25-year history of foot-dragging, ineptitude and indifference on the part of public officials that has led to a health crisis of mammoth proportions, mostly in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
In an important public service, the Register reported infractions and abuses at child-care centers that put thousands of children at risk, some in grave danger.
An in-depth analysis of Michigan's child welfare system written with a compelling narrative and facts uncovered from restricted files. Over six days, Kresnak detailed dangerous flaws in the state's welfare system through the story of Ariana, a 2-year-old child brutally murdered by her parents. Kresnak’s writing is devastatingly straightforward. Thanks to this masterwork of detailed reporting, readers have taken on the cause to change the lives of children in harm's way.
This series was bravely done, thoroughly reported and completely unsparing of the instinct to flinch at what it tells: that children everywhere are vulnerable to victimization of the worst sort from predators on the Internet.
Where statistical treatments of prosecutions of minors are numbing, the faces of these children provoke another response altogether. High-impact journalism, superbly executed.