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Chicago Tribune, Post and Courier, and MedPage Today win 2017 Barlett & Steele Awards

October 4, 2017

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The 2017 Barlett & Steele Gold Award went to the Chicago Tribune reporters who conducted a massive investigation into pharmacies dispensing life-threatening drug combinations.

Chicago Tribune; The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina.; and MedPage Today won gold, silver and bronze awards, respectively, in the 11th annual Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Journalism, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism announced today.

Named for the renowned investigative team of Don Barlett and Jim Steele, whose awards include two Pulitzer Prizes, the annual Reynolds Center awards celebrate the best in investigative business journalism.


“Dangerous Doses” by Sam Roe, Ray Long and Karisa King of Chicago Tribune, a two-year investigation that exposed failure of the nation’s pharmacies to adequately warn patients of potentially dangerous drug combinations, received the gold award of $5,000. In a collaborative staff project that drew in an additional 15 journalists, the Tribune tested 255 pharmacies to see how often stores dispense dangerous drug pairs without warning patients. Fifty-two percent of those tested sold the medications without mentioning potential interaction, a result that was the same whether in affluent or poor neighborhoods. In an immediate industrywide response, the nation’s largest pharmacy retailers announced significant steps to improve patient safety, including better computer systems and training for pharmacists and technicians. The Illinois governor ordered regulators to clamp down on pharmacy errors and proposed changes in code, while state lawmakers passed legislation to study the issues and additional ways to improve safety. Reform measures were planned at the state and national levels.

“This is consumer public service at its highest level through the use of investigative reporting,” said the judges, noting its careful design that included consultation with experts. “The story required a big investment of time—clearly a paperwide effort—to make the tests comprehensive. While the story is necessarily local, this is a story with major implications for consumers around the country.”


“Sticking with the Pig: A tale of loyalty and loss” by Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier, which through interviews and document searches untangled complex financial transactions of betrayal and greed in the demise of employee-owned Piggly Wiggly Carolina, received the silver award of $2,000. Senior executives of the country’s largest franchiser of the iconic Piggly Wiggly grocery stores had urged employees to work harder during difficult times because they were a family of owners. But at the same time those executives were carting away millions of dollars at employee expense during the death spiral. Bartelme conducted interviews with 50 former employees who had put their faith in the company and numerous experts. He examined thousands of pages of IRS, Labor Department, SEC and corporation filings, while also obtaining internal memos, videos and emails. Besides the Post and Courier’s print edition, its digital project included interactive time lines and videos.

“This story has everything—great narrative, top-notch reporting, sympathetic individual victims and clear exposition with easy-to understand graphics and excellent photos,” said the judges of the story that explained for all the manner in which companies can potentially use employee-owned stock ownership plans for personal benefit. “Stellar work and investment of a top reporter’s time by a regional newspaper.”


“Lowering the Bar” by John Fauber, Kristina Fiore and Matt Wynn in MedPage Today, an investigation that revealed how non-life-threatening conditions once considered little more than everyday ailments have been named medical disorders by drug companies, received the bronze award of $1,000. This report showed how some of the resulting treatment regimens have become a source of serious side effects. It unveiled “medicalization” as a massive new market for drug companies in which uncontrolled anger is now intermittent explosive disorder, blood sugar a little too high is pre-diabetes and going to the bathroom frequently is overactive bladder syndrome. The investigation shows how eight non-life-threatening conditions were turned into medical disorders said to affect more than 180 million Americans. For example, drugs for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), once rare but now one in 23 adults, sent 28,000 people to emergency rooms in one year alone and, in Florida, overdoses involving the drugs were up 450 percent.

“This is an outstanding example of a news organization pulling back the camera using strong reporting, incisive analysis and clear exposition to illuminate a huge national issue,” said the judges. “The reporting clearly exposes the extensive financial ties to drug companies of so-called independent experts whose service on key medical professional committees defines new illnesses.”

About the Barlett & Steele Awards

“Our 11th annual awards clearly indicate that, despite media industry disruption, news organizations of all sizes and locations still take seriously their responsibility to investigate critical money and health issues that can harm the public,” said Andrew Leckey, president of the Reynolds Center. “We applaud those who rally their entire newsrooms, allow busy reporters time for deep research and fearlessly stand up to the large corporations they call into question.”

The judges for this year’s awards were Paul Steiger, executive chairman of ProPublica, Cesca Antonelli, a senior executive editor at Bloomberg News, and Dan Hertzberg, longtime financial journalist with The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

The awards will be conferred on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix.


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