CTNewsJunkie Editor Christine Stuart was honored at the inaugural LION Publishers Awards in Nashville this weekend for her coverage leading to the release of startling school-by-school immunization data earlier this year.
Stuart and her colleagues won the award for Best Breaking News Coverage among medium-sized publications (150,000 to 500,000 pageviews per month), for her series of stories starting with As Measles Returns, Connecticut Offers Little Info About Immunization Rates, which coincided with the largest number of measles cases around the country in 25 years, including two in nearby New York state.
Stuart’s reporting uncovered Public Health Department data identifying 109 schools across Connecticut where kindergarten and seventh-grade measles immunization rates fell below the “herd immunity” rate of 95% recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recommended rate is designed to minimize the risk of a measles outbreak in the event of an exposure to a person carrying the highly contagious virus, complications from which include pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain), each of which can lead to hospitalization and death. The disease was nearly eradicated in the US following decades of immunizations, but it has returned as more parents have begun using religious or medical exemptions available under state laws around the country.
CTNewsJunkie’s coverage included an interactive map showing school locations in shades of green for compliance, yellow for mildly low immunization rates, all the way through red for high numbers of unimmunized children in a given school.
The data was anonymized so that no children were identified, but the story drew concerns from parents who believe their children have been injured by vaccines, including a lawsuit from one couple with an autistic child seeking to stop the release of the data, and opposition from a group in favor the government needing consent for vaccinations.
The data prompted immediate concern from state legislators and eventually the governor’s office, along with plans for legislation to eliminate the religious exemption to public school vaccination requirements.
The contest winners were announced at LION’s annual conference, held in Nashville this year. LION is an educational nonprofit organization with about 260 “local, independent, online, news” publishers. The organization, which received a $1 million grant this year from the Knight Foundation, has a goal is of rebuilding the nation’s fast-shrinking news industry from the ground up. It’s stated mission is to “foster the viability and excellence of locally focused independent online news organizations and cultivate their connections to their communities through education and action.”
The contest was judged by Amara Aguilar, USC Annenberg; Christine Schmidt, Nieman Lab; Courtney Cowgill, University of Montana; Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed; Dana Coester, West Virginia University; Dawn Garcia, JSK Fellowships; Doug Mitchell, Next Generation Radio; Eve Pearlman, Spaceship Media; Jane Elizabeth, Raleigh News & Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun; Scott Sharpe, Visuals Editor, McClatchy Southeast Region; Jessica Pucci, Arizona State University; Jim Rutenberg, New York Times; Julia B. Chan, Mother Jones; Ken Doctor, Newsonomics; Kristen Hare, Poynter; Laura Owen, Nieman Lab; and Reuben Stern, University of Missouri.
CTNewsJunkie also was a finalist for the Technology Innovation of the Year Award presented by Facebook, for its Bills.CTNewsJunkie.com app.
The app, which presents like a website in any browser, pulls in all the legislation proposed by the Connecticut General Assembly and re-publishes it to allow visitors to read and engage by commenting and/or voting their support or opposition to specific bills, and also by sharing them on social media to help foster civic engagement in the legislative process.
The app fell short of victory in the category, which was won by LedeAi, a new software system from RichlandSource.com that locates online information about thousands of high school athletic events in realtime and then produces a brief about each game for use by customer news organizations.