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Nine ProPublica Reporters and Fellows Named Livingston Award Finalists

Seven ProPublica Reporters and two Local Reporting Network fellows were named finalists for the 2024 Livingston Awards on Wednesday. The awards, organized by the Wallace House Center for Journalists at the University of Michigan, honor outstanding achievement by journalists under the age of 35.

Kirsten Berg, Alex Mierjeski and Brett Murphy were named finalists for the national reporting award for their contributions to “Friends of the Court.” The series examined Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ decadeslong friendship with real estate tycoon Harlan Crow and raised questions about influence and ethics at the nation’s highest court. In response to the reporting, Thomas for the first time acknowledged that he should have reported selling real estate to Crow in 2014. Writing in his annual financial disclosure form, Thomas said he “inadvertently failed to realize” that the deal needed to be publicly disclosed. Thomas also disclosed receiving three private jet trips from Crow, two of which ProPublica reported on. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas of Crow and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo as part of the panel’s ongoing effort to investigate ethics lapses by justices. Crow has said he never tried to influence Thomas on any matters.

Ava Kofman was also named a finalist for the national reporting award for “Inside the Secretive World of Penile Enlargement,” co-published with The New Yorker. The investigation took a measured look at a little-known but highly lucrative medical procedure that had long been dismissed as tabloid bait unworthy of government scrutiny or serious media attention. Kofman’s viral exposé changed that. Psychological insight and forensic investigative skill converge in Kofman’s propulsive and devastating examination of the secretive male enhancement industry and its exploitation of modern masculinity.

WPLN/Nashville Public Radio criminal justice reporter and Local Reporting Network fellow Paige Pfleger and ProPublica’s Mariam Elba were named finalists for the local reporting award for “How Tennessee’s Justice System Allows Dangerous People to Keep Guns — With Deadly Outcomes.” Tennessee has some of the highest gun violence rates in the country and some of the loosest gun laws. The moving investigation illuminated how the death of Michaela Carter was a consequence of a criminal and civil justice system in Tennessee that has repeatedly failed to stop dangerous abusers from accessing guns. According to the analysis, using multiple public records requests and extensive court record searches, she was one of at least 75 people killed in domestic violence shootings in Nashville since 2007. Nearly 40% were shot by people who were legally barred from having a gun.

Mississippi Today community health reporter and Local Reporting Network fellow Isabelle Taft and ProPublica’s Agnel Philip and Mollie Simon were named finalists for the local reporting award for “Committed to Jail: How Mississippi Jails People for Mental Illness.” Each year, hundreds of Mississippians awaiting court-ordered psychiatric treatment are held in jails that are poorly equipped to care for them and don’t meet state standards. This series revealed the practice of jailing people with mental illness, most of whom haven’t been charged with a crime, as they await court-ordered treatment under the state’s civil commitment law. Since 2006, at least 17 people have died after being jailed during the commitment process, raising questions about whether jails can protect people in the midst of a mental health crisis. After the news organizations started asking about a 2009 law about jails this year, the state attorney general’s office concluded that it is a “mandatory requirement” that the Mississippi Department of Mental Health certify the facilities where people are held after judges have ordered them into treatment. And in March, Mississippi lawmakers introduced several bills that would drastically limit when people can be jailed without criminal charges as they await court-ordered psychiatric treatment.

See the full list of 2024 Livingston Award finalists.

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