The Radio Television Digital News Association announced today that ProPublica won an Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in innovation for its “Lost Mothers” database, a collaboration with NPR. The national award honors outstanding achievements in electronic journalism.
Led by ProPublica reporters Nina Martin and Adriana Gallardo, along with NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne, the first-of-its-kind database was part of a year-long investigation on the maternal mortality crisis in the United States. The gallery was designed by ProPublica’s editorial experience designer, Rob Weychert. Early into their investigation on why the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality and severe morbidity in the affluent world, the reporters learned that, when a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications, she becomes nearly invisible. The usual research tools used by journalists, such as Nexis and Google, turned up surprisingly few news stories in which women were named, and obituaries rarely mention the cause of death.
To find the mothers, the reporters scoured crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring, verifying names with obituaries and public posts on Facebook and Twitter. They also published a callout, asking affected families to tell their stories. More than 4,700 people responded, including 4,000 women who said they had almost died themselves. Working with NYU journalism graduate students Emma Cillekens and Alessandra Freita, the team contacted family members multiple times over a six-month period, encouraging them to share personal details, photographs and medical records. These efforts helped the reporters create the “Lost Mothers” database, eventually identifying more than 160 maternal deaths in 2016 alone.
The series spurred significant impact. State and local lawmakers around the country, citing the work, have adopted a flurry of bills aimed at reforming how maternal deaths are identified and investigated. Indiana, Oregon, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania passed laws creating maternal mortality review committees to scrutinize deaths and near-deaths among expectant and new mothers, and make policy recommendations to improve maternal health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which sets standards of care for obstetrician-gynecologists, also released sweeping new recommendations for improving maternal care, including guidelines for doctors to see new mothers sooner and more frequently and for insurers to cover the increased visits.
See a list of all winners of the Edward R. Murrow Awards here.