The American Society of Magazine Editors announced that ProPublica and partners won five of its 2021 National Magazine Awards (also known as the Ellies) honoring excellence in print and digital media. ProPublica projects won in the categories of public interest, coverage of race, social media, digital innovation and community journalism.
A series of two articles by Lizzie Presser, which highlighted racial disparities in diabetic amputations and kidney care, won for public interest. For years, diabetes has been disabling and killing Black Americans at startling rates. In “The Black American Amputation Epidemic,” trailing a crusading Mississippi doctor, Presser shined a spotlight on hospital neglect and government failures that have affected millions of Americans with diabetes. The story detailed how Black Americans with diabetes lose limbs at a rate triple that of others, a sign that quality preventive care isn’t reaching the people who need it most. As a result, federal legislators introduced a sweeping bill to reduce unnecessary amputations — the most significant legislative effort to date — and the American Diabetes Association announced its first-ever initiative to curb amputations. In “Tethered to the Machine,” Presser captured the descent of JaMarcus Crews, a young Black man on dialysis trying to get on the waitlist for kidney care before the arrival of COVID-19. What she saw mirrored the experiences of thousands of families: watching relatives who had long been neglected by the health care system suffer the worst consequences of this virus. Presser used interviews, Crews’ text messages, personal papers and thousands of pages of medical records to drill down on how, over decades, the health care system failed him.
“How COVID-19 Hollowed Out a Generation of Young Black Men,” by Akilah Johnson and Nina Martin, won for coverage of race. The reporters noticed early on how the coronavirus was killing young Black men with deadly efficiency, and their story challenged the idea that only entrenched comorbidities were to blame for the disparate impact. Martin and Johnson collected the stories of two dozen men who died; then interviewed their family members and friends, spoke to health researchers and reviewed their autopsies. Their findings supported the John Henryism theory, which holds that the racial stress Black men endure daily snowballs into chronic conditions that affect their overall health, ultimately shortening their lives. Video journalist Nadia Sussman and video editor Joseph Singer animated the art of Derrick Dent into an explanatory video to give readers a different way to share and understand the theory.
“Grace: A Failure in Michigan’s Juvenile Justice System” won for social media. When Jodi S. Cohen reported on Grace, a Michigan teen jailed for failing to complete online schoolwork, it was clear that the story had potential to resonate on many different levels. ProPublica’s audience team — including senior audience editor Meg Marco, social media and platforms editor Kengo Tsutsumi and visual producer Maya Eliahou, along with newsletter reporter Logan Jaffe and art director Lisa Larson-Walker — worked closely with Cohen on the story’s initial rollout and all subsequent updates. They co-wrote and edited the Twitter thread Cohen published alongside the original investigation, focusing on her role in reporting out the story. The team also focused on clarity, primary documents and the human story at the center of it all, while the packaging and design of the story and all social assets were designed to protect Grace’s identity. #FreeGrace started trending on Twitter. A petition (not affiliated with ProPublica) quickly reached 300,000 signatures. Readers produced their own Instagram posts with flashy graphic design telling Grace’s story and organizing around her cause. Celebrities got involved. Less than three weeks after the story was published, and following ProPublica’s social media campaign, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered Grace’s immediate release.
“Hawaii’s Beaches Are Disappearing,” a ProPublica Local Reporting Network project by Sophie Cocke of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Ash Ngu of ProPublica, won for digital innovation. The story exposed the various ways in which coastal homeowners have used loopholes to circumvent Hawaii’s environmental laws at the expense of the state’s beaches. Some got permission from the state to build new seawalls or keep existing ones. Others got state approvals to use sandbags and heavy tarps, which can have the same damaging effects as seawalls. Using drone footage and shoreline maps, the story included an interactive graphic mapping that showed, for the first time, the collective impact of shoreline armoring. What might have been a dense story on policy became easy to understand for readers, who were able to visualize the scale of the misuse and to search which properties had received permits to maintain older seawalls or build new ones.
“Unheard,” a Local Reporting Network project with Anchorage Daily News, won for community journalism. A first-of-its-kind story-sharing project, it was part of an ongoing investigation into sexual violence in Alaska, which has the highest rate of sexual assault and child sex abuse in the U.S. Yet for generations it has been an unspoken epidemic. Predators have assumed, often correctly, that victims would remain silent or no one would listen. The powerful digital and print project features the portraits and stories of 29 Alaskan sexual assault survivors who chose to talk about what they experienced, giving a voice to those who have been sexually assaulted in the state. Participants were women and men of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, Native and non-Native, all seeking to inspire change in Alaska’s justice system and to de-stigmatize being a survivor of sexual violence. “Unheard” was a collaboration between Kyle Hopkins, Michelle Theriault Boots, Anne Raup, Marc Lester and Loren Holmes of the Daily News, as well as ProPublica’s Adriana Gallardo, Nadia Sussman and Agnes Chang.