The Scripps Howard Foundation announced today that five projects from ProPublica and the ProPublica Local Reporting Network are finalists for the Scripps Howard National Journalism Awards. The work was honored in the categories of business/financial reporting, investigative reporting, community journalism and radio/podcast.
The TurboTax Trap was nominated for business/financial reporting. Reporters Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel showed why Americans, unlike citizens of other developed countries, pay billions of dollars every year to file taxes. They revealed that Intuit, whose TurboTax business has helped the company become a $69 billion Silicon Valley colossus, has spent millions in lobbying to fend off an IRS program that would help most Americans file their taxes for free. The company also used deceptive design, misleading ads and technical tricks to get people to pay to file their taxes, even when they were eligible to file for free. In response to this reporting, the IRS and its inspector general announced an investigation into the agency’s Free File partnership with the tax prep industry. The IRS later agreed to major reforms, including barring companies from hiding their free products from search engines and scrapping a years-old prohibition on the IRS creating its own online filing system.
Disaster in the Pacific was nominated for investigative reporting. The series of stories by Robert Faturechi, T. Christian Miller and Megan Rose centered on three accidents in 2017 and 2018 that resulted in the deaths of 23 service members in the Navy and Marines. Their reporting showed that U.S. sailors and aviators are often not properly trained for combat and are frequently sent out with outmoded or slipshod equipment. When the inevitable accidents occurred, investigations led by senior officers blamed rank-and-file sailors for what were clearly systemic shortcomings. In three of the cases we reported on, senior officers evaded responsibility even though their subordinates had been repeatedly warning of possible disasters.
A 911 Emergency by The Public’s Radio, a ProPublica Local Reporting Network partner, was nominated for radio/podcast. The series by reporter Lynn Arditi revealed how inadequate training, weak regulatory oversight and powerful political forces are harming emergency medical care in Rhode Island and costing lives. Arditi documented the consequences of the state’s failure to train 911 call takers to provide CPR instructions over the phone. She also exposed how a life-saving tool used by EMS personnel on patients in cardiac arrest can turn deadly. In response to our investigation, Rhode Island’s legislature increased the training budget for 911 call takers to certify them in emergency medical dispatch.
Profiting from the Poor, a project by MLK50, a partner in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, was nominated for community journalism. Reporter Wendi C. Thomas investigated Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the largest hospital system in Memphis, and how it has sued and garnished the wages of thousands of its poorest patients, including its own employees, for unpaid medical bills. Days after our stories ran, Methodist suspended its lawsuits against poor patients. It then completed a 30-day review followed by a series of sweeping changes that included doubling the threshold at which people qualify for discounted or free care and increasing the wages of its lowest-paid workers to at least $15 an hour by 2021. All told, Methodist forgave nearly $12 million in debts owed by thousands of patients.
Lawless by The Anchorage Daily News, another ProPublica Local Reporting Network partner, was also nominated for community journalism. Journalists Kyle Hopkins, Loren Holmes, Bill Roth and Marc Lester uncovered a sexual assault crisis in rural Alaska and how it is compounded by a profound lack of public safety services. Following the series’ publication, U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited the state and declared the lack of law enforcement in rural Alaska to be a federal emergency. The declaration has led the Department of Justice to promise more than $52 million in federal funding for public safety in Alaska villages. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage also announced the hiring of additional rural prosecutors, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will hire 15 additional state troopers.
See a full list of Scripps Howard Award finalists here.