Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting goes to Milwaukee team

The Deadly Delays team. Bill Schulz / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

USC Annenberg's 25th annual Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting has been awarded to a team of journalists from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their series “Deadly Delays.” The series "documented how delays at hospitals across the country undermine newborn screening programs, putting babies at risk of disability and death." The Selden Ring award comes with a $35,000 prize.

From USC's announcement:

The team -- comprised of [sic] Ellen Gabler, Mark Johnson, John Fauber, Allan James Vestal and Kristyna Wentz-Graff – were recognized for their special report detailing the consequences of delayed tests to screen newborns for genetic disorders.

Gabler, Johnson, and Fauber were the reporters on the project, Wentz-Graff the photojournalist, and Vestal the news application developer.

“Deadly Delays” shed light on the nation's newborn screening programs that depend on speed and science to save babies from rare diseases. But, according to the series’ findings, “thousands of hospitals fall short, deadly delays are ignored and failures are hidden from public view — while babies and their families suffer.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative team analyzed information from nearly 3 million newborn screening tests to produce this first-ever look at delays in newborn screening from hospitals across the country.

The team interwove a “rock-solid foundation of data with powerful human detail,” stated the Selden Ring judges. “They found that hundreds of thousands of tests arrive late at labs nationwide, with sometimes devastating consequences.” The jury further hailed the group for making hospital data available online that “allows readers to check their hospitals, a hugely valuable public service.”

In addition, the judges cited the powerful impact of the six-month long investigation, as “…dozens of states [have] changed their process for dealing with infant screening and have cut waiting times. Arizona, for example, which had been one of the poorest performing states, completely overhauled its screening program.”

Washington Post coverage of National Security Agency surveillance programs was the runner-up. The judging panel was chaired by New York Times managing editor Dean Baquet and included a couple of his former LA Times colleagues, managing editor Marc Duvoisin and Robin Fields, now managing editor of ProPublica; plus Brant Houston, professor and Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting, University of Illinois; Mark Katches, editorial director, Center for Investigative Reporting; and Alexandra Zayas, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times who won the 2013 Selden Ring Award.

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