New Mexico In Depth wins big in regional contest

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Image source: Shaun Griswold, reporter, New Mexico In Depth.

New Mexico In Depth won nine awards last month, including five 1st place finishes, in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, an annual competition that encompasses the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The awards included stories produced in partnership with media partners. Another prize-winning entry was part of a national series that examined COVID-19’s effects on rural education in several states.

New Mexico In Depth’s Bryant Furlow earned two 1st place awards working with Pulitzer-winning nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, which partners with state and local newsrooms. One story won the Public Service award for exposing a practice of automatically testing for COVID-19 and then segregating Native American pregnant women by one of New Mexico’s largest hospitals. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that state officials would investigate the alleged treatment at the Lovelace Women’s Hospital the day the story was published.

Within days state investigators had found enough evidence of a violation of patient rights to draft a statement of deficiencies and, within weeks, to refer findings to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Months later, a federal agency affirmed those findings. The hospital reported that it had halted the practice and promised to conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance.

“Important, timely and thorough reporting on a crucial topic. Excellent reporting,” wrote one judge.

Furlow’s other prize-winning story won 1st place for Pandemic Reporting, and was a collaboration between New Mexico In Depth, ProPublica and the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer newspaper that reported the nation’s nursing homes weren’t ready for COVID, in part, because of a multi-year effort by the industry fighting regulations, according to a review of documents, inspection data and reports.

“This was the clear winner, looking at a big picture issue and providing perspective,” one judge wrote. “Great use of numbers to back up the story.”

In Enterprise Reporting, Jeff Proctor won 1st place for his series examining how prisons and jails were handling COVID. Proctor interviewed prisoners and their attorneys to hear first-hand accounts of what the corrections facilities within the state were doing, or not doing, to manage the virus. All the while thousands of human beings in the facilities’ care were experiencing the pandemic in confined spaces.

“A great series of contemporaneous accounts of how the state failed prison inmates,” a judge wrote. “If anyone claims that no one saw this crisis coming, these are the receipts.”

Bryan Metzger of New Mexico In Depth and Sara Swann of The Fulcrum (of Washington, D.C.) scored a 1st place award, too, for their deep examination of “gray money” — shorthand for money that’s given by secret groups to other entities registered as political action committees. Trying to find the original source of the money requires a person to sift and sort through multiple layers of public reports that PACs must file. More often than not the search leads to a dead end.

Another 1st place honor went to Elizabeth Miller in Best Solutions Journalism for her three-part series that looked at food insecurity in New Mexico. Before COVID hit, New Mexico had one of the highest food insecurity rates in the nation, including one in three children who didn’t know where their next meal would come from. It rose with the pandemic and the higher unemployment, school closures, and shortages of some food-items that accompanied it.

The stories looked at how the federal government’s loosening of a range of regulations fostered innovative ways to keep feeding children not physically in school. They also told readers how local farms were helping and people were stepping up to aid neighbors by creating mutual aid networks.

NMID’s Shaun Griswold won 2nd place in the same category for his story, “Using tech and circuit riding to beat the pandemic,” which was part of a months-long series called Lesson Plans. Managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News, the series involved multiple news outlets in several states reporting on the effects of the pandemic on rural education.

In addition to these 1st place awards won in competition with other medium size outlets in the West, New Mexico In Depth won multiple awards in other categories:

Marjorie Childress, Griswold and Aliya Uteuova won 2nd place in Social Justice Reporting for COVID disparities force a public health reckoning. This story highlighted how COVID-19 positive cases in 2020 disproportionately occurred in New Mexico’s lower-income census tracts, home to a majority of people of color, while very low rates were recorded in the highest-income neighborhoods, many of which are home to a majority of white families. The story included interactive maps made by Uteuova, a journalism fellow from Columbia University.

Griswold and Trip Jennings won 2nd place in Education News for Is push for education equity at risk amid COVID-19 economic fallout?  In June 2020, the pandemic forced Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to call a special session to recalibrate expenses, just months after predictions of a new era of robust state spending thanks to a historic oil-and-gas boom. With their story Griswold and Jennings asked this question: Would the hard economic times undermine New Mexico’s commitment to addressing decades of educational inequities just as it was ramping up after a landmark 2018 court decision. The ruling found the state in violation of its own constituion by not providing a sufficient education for all students. 

And Stan Alcorn won 3rd place in Enterprise Reporting for The founder of New Mexico’s new militia was a neo-Nazi skinhead. To report the story, Alcorn obtained court records from another state about the leader of the militia group, showing his white supremacist past and viewpoints. 

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