ProPublica and NPR’s series on maternal mortality in the U.S., ‘Lost Mothers’, is the winner of the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. Administered by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, the Goldsmith Prize recognizes journalism that encourages good government and public policy by “disclosing excessive secrecy, impropriety, and mismanagement, or instances of particularly commendable government performance.”
“Lost Mothers” explored why the U.S., which spends more per capita on health care than any other country, also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. With stories by ProPublica reporters Nina Martin, Adriana Gallardo and Annie Waldman, as well as NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne, their reporting called out those culpable and showed a way forward that could save lives and families that are too often destroyed by preventable tragedies.
The series included intimate narratives of mothers who perished after failing to receive basic care; data analysis that established beyond a doubt the greater risks faced by African-American women; and a first-of-its kind database of the personal stories behind this issue.
A key element of the project was a callout, asking people who knew someone who died or nearly died in pregnancy or childbirth to tell ProPublica their stories. Almost 4,500 readers responded, including 3,862 who said they had almost died themselves. These women shared their insights on everything from choosing a provider to grappling with the emotional fallout in a ProPublica article outlining their advice.
Prompted by “Lost Mothers,” two state legislators in New Jersey introduced a bill to heighten monitoring of maternal deaths and encourage hospitals to adopt life-saving treatment protocols. The series also had an immediate impact on the lives of readers. Days after giving birth, Marie McCausland in Ohio, Cassi Foley in California, and Nelly Wright in Oregon all suffered from intense pain and rising blood pressure. Yet doctors didn’t tell them how to recognize complications, or dismissed their symptoms as normal. What helped save them was reading a “Lost Mothers” article about a woman who died because her preeclampsia—a type of high blood pressure that only occurs in pregnancy or postpartum—wasn’t diagnosed until it was too late. Recognizing themselves in her plight, the women persisted in seeking treatment, and survived.