ProPublica Local Reporting Network partner Amy Silverman is the recipient of the 2020 Virg Hill Journalist of the Year Award, Arizona’s most prestigious journalism award. The honor given by the Arizona Press Club is named for Hill, a popular and witty political columnist and reporter for the Phoenix Gazette who died of a heart attack in 1969 while covering the state House of Representatives. The award goes to the writer or editor who, in the opinion of the judges, had the best portfolio of work during 2020.
Silverman, reporting for the Arizona Daily Star, wrote about how often Arizonans with disabilities are denied services they desperately need by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities, or DDD. Arizona had long enjoyed a reputation for having the best services in the country for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But years of mismanagement, funding shortfalls and turnover at every level of the DDD resulted in a much different story. Stories in the “State of Denial” series revealed the demise of independent oversight committees designed to provide outside accountability, as well as the failure of the state to fulfill recommendations made by a governor’s task force on abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities.
One of the project’s main goals was to include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the reporting in meaningful ways, through their own voices. Silverman worked with Daily Star reporter Alex Devoid and ProPublica’s Maya Miller and Beena Raghavendran to review thousands of pages of documents, analyze data and interview more than 100 people and their families as well as advocates, caregivers, attorneys, doctors and bureaucrats to reveal the system’s inadequacies. One highlight was translating the story into plain-language text, which is intended to make stories easier to read for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This was the first time a mainstream media organization made such an attempt for an investigative series, and the editors explained this decision and others they made in a note to readers. The project also included audio recordings of most of the stories in both the original format and plain language for people who have vision or other reading challenges. Illustrations for the story were created by a group of artists with disabilities.
“Fantastic work highlighting issues within the state for those with disabilities. Very well done and something to be proud of,” an awards judge said.
In addition to Silverman’s Journalist of the Year Award, she won first place in the statewide public service category for a story in the “State of Denial” series about an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who waited 18 months for a communication device. Her mother got a call the day after the story was published that her daughter’s device was ready. Silverman also won first place in the statewide column/opinion writing category for her work with Phoenix magazine.
See a list of all 2020 Arizona Press Club winners here.