The Society of American Business Editors and Writers, or SABEW, announced Tuesday that ProPublica won two awards in its Best in Business competition recognizing excellence in business journalism.
Marshall Allen’s “Health Insurance Hustle” won in the health/science category. The series explored why health insurance in the United States ranks among the costliest in the developed world — a mystery so overwhelming and complex that few journalists have successfully tackled it. Allen interviewed scores of insurance insiders and pored over reams of internal documents, lawsuits and medical bills to produce clearly told, entertaining stories that revealed the hidden schemes, side deals and fees that jack up the amount we all pay for health care. In addition to helping patients and employers better understand health insurance, “Health Insurance Hustle” also empowered them to question to status quo.
“Marshall Allen’s series used narrow, gripping stories to tackle some of the biggest problems with American health care,” contest judges said. “A hip replacement became a powerful indictment of a system built to maximize costs. A trade show floor revealed how the nation’s private surveillance giants are trying to sell their dossiers on us to our insurers, with the implication that we could be compelled to pay even more. And the story of a CPAP machine that spied on a patient for his insurer showed still-darker consequences: an insurer threatening to cut off access to an essential breathing tube. Some of these issues are perennial, others brand-new, but Marshall Allen’s engaging yet understated writing demystified both subsets for a wider audience that urgently needs to know more.”
“Unprotected” by reporter Finlay Young, with photography by Kathleen Flynn, won for international reporting. The story looked into an acclaimed charity called More Than Me led by American Katie Meyler, which wanted to save vulnerable Liberian girls from sexual exploitation. Then children in the charity’s care were raped. “Unprotected” showed that the rape within the charity was far more widespread than had ever been acknowledged, that the perpetrator had AIDS and that the charity had obscured the truth while failing to safeguard all the victims.
“Unprotected” exposed deep accountability problems, not only within Liberia, but within the whole system of philanthropy-funded international aid. Following publication, More Than Me apologized to the victims and, for the first time, conceded it had failed them. The board chair resigned, along with two other board members, while Meyler took a leave of absence. The Liberian government also announced a multi-agency inquiry.
The story “was brave reporting about a sensitive topic — well written and respectful,” contest judges said. “It had very vivid imagery, and really took the audience there, but it also managed to show just enough to tell the story without exploiting the children involved.”
Two other ProPublica projects received SABEW Award honorable mentions. “Black Patients Miss Out on Promising Cancer Drugs,” a deep, data-driven investigation by Caroline Chen and Riley Wong, received honorable mention in the health/science category. The ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago series “Driven Into Debt” by Melissa Sanchez, David Eads, Sandhya Kambhampati and Elliott Ramos of WBEZ — which laid out how Chicago raised ticket fees to yield more revenue, with disastrous effects on the city’s poorer and minority populations — received honorable mention in the investigative category.
Learn more about the SABEW Awards and see a list of all the winners here.