Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2015

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Sun reporters win investigative reporting award for hospital series

Marshall Allen

Marshall Allen

Alex Richards

Alex Richards

Two journalists who reported and wrote the Sun series “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas” have been awarded the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, sponsored by Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

The award, which carries a $25,000 prize, was presented Monday to Marshall Allen and Alex Richards in ceremonies in Cambridge, Mass.

“Do No Harm,” which represented more than two years of reporting, identified the preventable infections and injuries — including surgical mishaps — that have occurred in Las Vegas hospitals. The series was based on a review of 2.9 million patient billing records that had been turned over by hospitals to the state for analysis but which had gone unexamined until the Sun obtained them.

Allen and Richards set out to impose a new openness about the quality of hospital care and to hold facilities accountable for patient outcomes. Their findings, presented in a five-part newspaper series and a multimedia presentation at LasVegasSun.com, resulted in consumers having access to quality-of-care data that will help them make smart decisions. The series has also triggered draft bills in the Nevada Legislature to force hospitals to be more transparent in the disclosure of data about the quality of patient care.

Richards, who was the Sun’s computer-assisted reporting specialist, was primarily responsible for examining and analyzing the data. He has since left the Sun for The Chronicle of Higher Education. To put the findings of the data in human context, Allen interviewed 250 doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and patients who told their stories of harm suffered in Las Vegas hospitals. The series also examined the fundamental reasons why Las Vegas hospitals are deficient in various areas, and concluded with suggestions of what they can do to improve patient care, based on successful initiatives elsewhere in the country.

To complement the reporting of Allen and Richards, the Sun built an elaborate multimedia site that included interactive graphics, video, documents and a forum for readers to share how they have been affected by hospital care in Las Vegas.

"This extraordinary piece of work demonstrates the power of teaming high quality investigative journalism with imaginative and elegant multimedia representation," said Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center. "It is the future of news."

Jones congratulated the Sun and its reporters for “dogged reporting and sophisticated analysis” that accomplished what government had not — to identify and report the preventable infections and injuries in Las Vegas hospitals.

The series was supplemented, Jones noted, with an elaborate and ambitious online component with input from readers and patients that added “muzzle velocity” to the hospital project.

“The impact was profound, both from people who had been harmed by hospitals, and from hospitals who were pushed and prodded into becoming transparent in a way they never had,” Jones told the awards gathering.

The national competition recognizes journalists whose investigative reporting best promotes more effective and ethical conduct of government, the making of public policy or the practice of politics.

Finalists for the Goldsmith Prize were:

• Los Angeles Times reporters Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, among others, for exposing widespread corruption and exorbitantly high salaries quietly being paid to government workers in Bell, a small city in Los Angeles County.

• Laura Sullivan and Steven Drummond of National Public Radio, for a three-part series examining the powerful bail industry in the United States and how it hurt defendants, their victims and taxpayers.

• Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein of ProPublica, Adam Davidson of National Public Radio and Ira Glass and Alex Blumberg of Chicago Public Radio for a collaboration that revealed how the recession of 2008 was significantly deepened by the machinations of Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Magnetar, a little-known hedge fund.

• Karen de Sa of the San Jose Mercury News, for the first comprehensive examination of the influences of outside interests in California lawmaking.

• Dana Priest and William Arkin of The Washington Post for examining how a massive expansion of government created in response to 9/11 has become so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

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