Reporters Ava Kofman, Brett Murphy, Lynzy Billing and Will Sennott have been named finalists for the 2023 Livingston Awards for their work on four ProPublica investigations including one Local Reporting Network project. The award, organized by the Wallace House Center for Journalists at the University of Michigan, honors outstanding achievement by journalists under the age of 35.
Half of all Americans die in hospice, and Kofman’s groundbreaking investigation “Endgame,” co-published with The New Yorker, prompted a national conversation on the American way of death — along with demands to reform an industry that has long been ignored. Kofman packed deep reporting and data analysis into an arresting legal thriller that exposed how easy money and lax regulation have transformed a charity movement into a $22 billion juggernaut rife with exploitation.
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reformed how they inspect hospice providers. In March hearings, the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to stop the hospice profiteering uncovered by the article. Regulators are now auditing some of the hospices identified by the story, with a report expected this summer.
In “Words of Conviction,” Murphy showed how for more than a decade, the 911 call analysis training program and its methods have quietly spread across the country, burrowing into the justice system. Today, hundreds of police officers, prosecutors, coroners and dispatchers nationwide have taken a course that purports to teach them how to divine guilt and innocence from the word choice, cadence and grammar of people reporting emergencies. But Murphy’s monthslong investigation reveals that this is junk science. The two stories led to swift impact, including attorneys offering to represent a young mother’s appeal after being convicted of killing her baby after a detective analyzed her 911 call as well as state lawmakers inquiring about legislative steps to stem 911 call analysis.
“The Night Raids,” by Afghan-born journalist Lynzy Billing, is a deeply reported and personal story that unravels the legacy of the secretive U.S.-backed Zero Units that killed countless civilians in Afghanistan. The ProPublica investigation shed new light on the CIA’s “classified” war in Afghanistan, where lines of accountability were so obscured that no one had to answer for operations that went wrong. More than three years of reporting and 350 interviews went into compiling the first-ever database of 452 Afghan civilians killed by night raids. While this is almost certainly an undercount, without Billing’s reporting these deaths would never have been acknowledged, nor would we know the true costs of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan.
In “How Foreign Private Equity Hooked New England’s Fishing Industry,” Will Sennott, a reporter for Local Reporting Network partner New Bedford Light, penetrated an opaque industry to show that private equity firms tied to foreign investors are taking over the nation’s top-earning commercial fishing port: New Bedford, Massachusetts. Strikingly, Sennott documented that Blue Harvest, the dominant company, was circumventing antitrust limits on market share and tracked its ownership through a series of shells to one of the wealthiest families in the Netherlands. Benefiting from lax regulation, the new owners are making already difficult conditions for fishermen even harsher by shifting costs onto them, lengthening their hours and sending them to sea in dilapidated boats. By giving voice to fishermen whose livelihoods were decimated, Sennott’s investigation spurred three U.S. senators to advocate stricter oversight, government officials to acknowledge regulatory failures, a House committee to call for mandatory disclosure of ownership records and the Justice Department to scrutinize antitrust issues in the industry.
See a list of all this year’s Livingston Award finalists.