A victory delayed is still a victory
Anger can be a pretty good motivation in journalism, or perhaps passion. The Pulitzer-prize-winning series on black lung disease from Jim Morris’ Environment team last year, "Breathless & Burdened" was enough to make anyone angry. To remind you, it exposed how a program at Johns Hopkins unaccountably detected lower levels of black lung in miners than others had.
It seemed to me a story from the past, the 1950s perhaps when miners struggled in difficult and dangerous conditions in Appalachian hell holes. Well, it seems they still do, based on reporting by Chris Hamby, now at BuzzFeed.
Jim’s team has stayed on top of the story and tracked the confidential, of course, investigation at Johns Hopkins. Almost by accident last week Jamie Smith Hopkins (yes, correct name) found out that the prestigious university had terminated the program after a nearly two-year-long investigation.
Let me remind you of the key finding of our investigation, that Dr. Paul Wheeler from the Johns Hopkins unit didn’t find a single case of severe black lung in 1500 cases for which he was asked an opinion. To see how nuts that was it’s worth taking a look at the x-ray data in this stunning comparison by Chris Zubak-Skees.
In the same week Jim reported how members of Congress were pushing for reform of black lung benefits based on the Center’s work.
Measuring the impact of Public Integrity’s reporting — like all investigative non-profits — is a fraught business between page views, social shares, and dissemination on other sites. But real, verifiable, action by authorities like this is hard to beat and very much in the spectrum of the “theory of change” on which major donors place us.
It doesn’t mean becoming advocates but it does mean caring about outcomes, the consequences of what we report: whether it is this black lung fiasco or the EPA’s decision to investigate its own civil rights unit recently.
Also on the policy impact front, Susan Ferriss’ indefatigable work on the subject of kids being treated like criminals at school — built in part around the case of an autistic Virginia boy called Kayleb Moon-Robinson, keeps getting closer to triggering legislative action, again because advocates and politicians are moved by our reporting. Susan reports that a bipartisan alliance has emerged in Virginia to try to tackle the way the state is criminalizing kids.