Jim Morris, Chris Hamby and Kimberly Leonard
Center for Public Integrity
The National Press Foundation is pleased to announce that the Center for Public Integrity has won the 2011 Thomas Stokes Award for Energy Writing. In a fine example of watchdog journalism, Jim Morris and Chris Hamby raise awareness of a little-known issue that puts 16 million Americans at risk of injury or death. Toxic hydrofluoric acid continues to be used in 50 of the nation’s oil refineries, despite the availability of safer alternatives. Morris, Hamby and their team at the Center for Public Integrity dug deep, analyzing inspection reports and EPA filings, interviewing neighbors, union officials, regulators and victims. Four stories are enriched with photos, video, links to documents and an interactive map by Kimberly Leonard that gives readers the tools to evaluate their own risk.
The problem is contextualized with details about how a largely impotent regulatory system allows a dangerous industry to postpone fixes and delay fines for years. And it’s humanized with stories of two victims: one dead, one condemned to a life of disability, disfigurement and pain.
Judges commented that the story idea might have been deep-sixed by editors at traditional media, given that, so far, there has been no full-on catastrophe to generate reader interest. As one quoted consultant points out, “These are low-probability, high-consequence events.” But we felt that highlighting such a danger before a major disaster speaks to the highest ideals of journalism.
Winning stories and graphic links below:
The Thomas L. Stokes Award was established in the spring of 1959 by friends and admirers of the late Thomas L. Stokes, the syndicated Washington columnist on national affairs. It was to be given annually for the best writing “in the independent spirit of Tom Stokes” on subjects of interest to him including energy and natural resources. The Center on Public Integrity will receive $1,000 and a citation. The primary mission of the National Press Foundation is to increase journalists’ knowledge of complex issues in order to improve public understanding. The foundation recognizes and encourages excellence in journalism through its awards and programs. A complete list of awards is here. More information about National Press Foundation programs is on our website and in this brief video.