NEW YORK (AP) — The Seattle Times' investigation of the state of Washington's practice of steering people to methadone to reduce its Medicaid costs won a Public Service award from the Associated Press Media Editors association.
In a three-part series, the newspaper's "Methadone and the Politics of Pain" exposed how more than 2,000 people in the state between 2003 and 2011 fatally overdosed on methadone, a cheap and unpredictable painkiller that was routinely prescribed for people in state-subsidized health care. After the series was published in December, state Medicaid officials sent out an emergency advisory warning of the risk of methadone. The state also told doctors to prescribe methadone only as a last resort.
The judges in the 2012 APME Journalism Excellence Awards described the series, winner in the large newspaper category, as a "tremendous, groundbreaking work."
"It opened eyes and prompted swift action," they said. "This is public service journalism at its best."
In the 40,000- to 150,000-circulation category, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., was honored for its coverage of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky. "The Patriot-News was far out front in reporting one of the most explosive stories of 2011, and they did it at great peril to the newspaper's reputation in the state," the judges said.
The Virgin Islands Daily News won the small-circulation category for "License to Steal," a two-month investigation that exposed a con man who set up a credit union to steal from unsuspecting customers - and the lax oversight of such institutions by the Virgin Islands government.
The judges said the work "represents public service journalism of the highest order. The paper stepped in to protect the islands' most marginalized, vulnerable residents when their government failed them."
APME is an association of editors at newspapers, broadcast outlets and journalism educators and student leaders in the United States and Canada. APME works closely with The Associated Press to foster journalism excellence.
The awards will be presented at the group's annual conference Sept. 19-21 in Nashville, Tenn.
Judges for the Public Service awards were: Alan Miller, managing editor, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and APME Journalism Studies chair; APME President Bob Heisse, executive editor, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.; APME Foundation President Hollis R. Towns, executive editor, Asbury Park Press, Neptune, N.J.; AP Managing Editor Kristin Gazlay; and former APME presidents Bobbie Jo Buel, editor, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson; David Ledford, executive editor, The News Journal, Wilmington, Del.; and Otis Sanford, Helen and Jabie Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economics/Managerial Journalism at the University of Memphis.
Judges did not participate in discussions or vote on their own newspapers' entries.
The APME board added two contests this year, one recognizing innovation in radio and television and the other for innovations by college students.
Three finalists were selected for APME's sixth annual Innovator of the Year Award: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for its "Empty Cradles" series about the death of children before their first birthday; the Arizona Republic, Phoenix, for the convergence of print, broadcast and online in its website, AZCentral; and The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, for innovations throughout its website.
The judges said the Journal Sentinel project "tackles a social issue and not only tells the story but, as an information source, is part of the solution. The project gets readers involved." They described AZCentral as "comprehensive convergence in a successful model," and said The Oklahoman "takes new and developing technologies and weaves them throughout news coverage on the Web."
Judges were: Joe Hight, director of information and development, The Oklahoman; APME Vice President Brad Dennison, vice president/News & Interactive Division, GateHouse Media; and J.B. Bittner, CNHI deputy national editor, Stillwater (Okla.) News Press.
The papers will present their groundbreaking work at the APME conference, and attendees will select the winner, who will receive $1,000 from GateHouse Media.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune were the winners of the Gannett Foundation Award for Digital Innovation in Watchdog Journalism, administered by APME.
The Journal Sentinel was honored for "Both Sides of the Law," an investigation into the system that allows Milwaukee police officers to stay on the job despite violating laws and ordinances they were sworn to uphold.
The Herald-Tribune won for its "Unfit for Duty" reports on Florida's law enforcement officers, their personal and professional conduct, and the system that was not up to the task of monitoring them.
The award recognized papers that creatively used digital tools in the role of being a community's watchdog. Each winning paper will receive $2,500 from the Gannett Foundation and will be recognized at the APME conference.
Judges were: Heisse; Carol Hanner, managing editor, Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal; and Gary Graham, editor, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Cox Media Group in Ohio was honored in the new category of Innovator of the Year for Radio and Television for its convergence of print, online and broadcast operations in Dayton. It launched an all-platform breaking news team to take best advantage of newsroom resources and provide breaking news to listeners, readers, viewers and users. The judges said the entry reflected "forward-thinking to meet the increasing demands of instant coverage."
Judges were: Elbert Tucker, director of news, WBNS-10TV, Columbus, Ohio; Jack Lail, multimedia editor, Knoxville News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tenn.; and Kevin Roach, AP director, U.S. Broadcast News.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and its collaboration with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison won the Innovator of the Year for College Students, the second new category announced this year. "This is a smart and innovative way for a journalism school to lead investigative reporting," the judges said.
Judges were: Chris Cobler, editor, Victoria (Texas) Advocate; Jim Simon, assistant managing editor, The Seattle Times; and Hanner.
The association also chose the winners for the following awards (in order of circulation category — over 150,000, 40,000-150,000 and under 40,000):
— The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for its investigation, "Both Sides of the Law," of the Milwaukee Police Department. The judges said it uncovered a level of abuse, corruption and out-right criminal activity in the Police Department that was breathtaking in its scope.
— The Knoxville News Sentinel for reporting on an out-of-control judge in the Baumgartner case, which prompted immediate and sweeping government reform.
— The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press for its investigation of the sloppy handling of warrants by the Vermont judiciary, which revealed negligence at every level of the legal system.
Judges: Teri Hayt, chair of APME's First Amendment Committee and managing editor, Arizona Daily Star; Martin Reynolds, senior editor-community engagement, Bay Area News Group, Oakland, Calif.; Alan English, vice president of audience, Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle; and Karen Kaiser, AP associate general counsel.
— Over 150,000: The Wall Street Journal for "China's Succession Scandal," which the judges said offered a rare glimpse of the secretive inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party elite. The series of stories led to the ouster of an up-and-coming party leader and cracked open the door for the Chinese as well as the rest of the world.
—Under 149,000: The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., for "A Healing Trip," about Memphis-area soldiers who stormed France's Utah Beach on D-day on a return visit. The judges said it was a well-woven story that found new life in an otherwise traditional angle.
Judges: Aminda Marques Gonzalez, executive editor, The Miami Herald; Bill Church, executive editor, Salem (Ore.) Statesman-Journal; and John Daniszewski, AP senior managing editor/international news.
DIGITAL STORYTELLING AND REPORTING
—USA Today for its 14-month investigation, "Ghost Factories: Poison in the Ground," which revealed the locations of more than 230 long-forgotten factories and the amount of toxic lead left behind.
— The Roanoke (Va.) Times for "Picking Up the Pieces," a look at how the town of Martinsville is recovering after manufacturing jobs went to China.
— The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press for breaking news coverage during the Occupy Burlington encampment.
Judges: Laura Sellers-Earl, digital development director, East Oregonian Publishing Co., Astoria, Ore.; Carole Tarrant, editor, The Roanoke Times; Tucker; and Jan Touney, executive editor, Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa.
The judges listed honorable mentions in other categories:
— The New York Times for its investigation of abuse of disabled people in state care.
— The Atlanta Journal Constitution for its investigation into schools that were cheating on standardized tests.
40,000 to 150,000:
— Sarasota Herald-Tribune for "Unfit for Duty" about Florida's rogue law enforcement officers.
— Asbury Park Press for its report on a cluster of suicides by teens and young adults in the Manasquan, N.J., area.
— Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World for "Unraveling a Rape Case" about using DNA evidence to find a rape suspect.
— Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader for "Fighting DUI" about the cost of cracking down on DUIs.
INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
— The Center for Innovation at Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for reforming and reshaping its student media. The converged newsroom is a model for journalism schools and professional news organizations, the judges said.
— The University of Oklahoma for its commitment for transparency, which offers its users a simple, elegant presentation of corrections and open-records requests.
— The Chicago Tribune for "Fugitives from Justice," which exposed systemic communication failures between the state and the federal government in finding fugitives.
DIGITAL STORYTELLING AND REPORTING
— The Wall Street Journal for its Sept. 11 anniversary coverage.
40,000 to 150,000:
— The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., for its package, "Loving Ingrid," about a woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury.
—Lawrence Journal-World for "Unraveling a Rape Case" about using DNA evidence to find a rape suspect.
— The Seattle Times for "The Price of Protection," its investigation of the state of Washington's reimbursement for civil commitment cases for sex offenders.
40,000 to 150,000:
— The Oklahoman for its investigation of the state's child welfare system.