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AJC ‘Doctors’ series wins investigative award

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution series, “Doctors & Sex Abuse,” has won the Philip Meyer Award, which honors the best investigative journalism that makes use of social science research methods.

The award was announced Tuesday by Investigative Reporters & Editors.

“The newspaper took data analysis for a story to new levels of sophistication,” the IRE said in a statement.

» Doctors & Sex Abuse: AJC 50-state investigation

The series, which ran in print and online last year, revealed a broken culture in the medical profession that protects doctors who sexually abuse their patients.

The IRE statement praised the way the AJC team used high-tech methods such as machine learning to root out abuses and abusers by sifting through more than 100,000 documents.

“They backed up their findings with other sophisticated data analysis and shoe-leather reporting. The sheer scope of their project was impressive. What was even more impressive were the results. The investigation found that doctors in every state had abused patients, and even when caught, still went unpunished.”

The series, which included numerous victims’ stories as well as statistics from many sources, was the work of AJC staff members Jeff Ernsthausen, Danny Robbins, Carrie Teegardin, Ariel Hart, Richard Watkins, Ryon Horne, Lois Norder, Johnny Edwards, Alan Judd and Shawn McIntosh.

“Our customers expect us to be committed to deep investigative reporting. This award acknowledges that commitment,” said Kevin Riley, editor of the AJC. “We’re deeply appreciative of the recognition from IRE and of the support from our subscribers without whom this work wouldn’t be possible.”

The AJC use of computing power and social science research techniques to aid in an investigation was not unique – it is the trend in current investigative journalism, said one of the judges – but it was deemed the best example of this kind of deep reporting work.

“This was an incredibly competitive year for the contest,” said Brant Houston, a contest judge who holds the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois. “All of judges noted the increased sophistication in the data analysis in many of the entries and how social science methods in journalism have evolved over the past decade. The bar has certainly been raised.”

Second place was awarded to “How Fire Feeds,” an examination of California wildfires by Eric Sagara, Scott Pham, Sinduja Rangarajan and Julia Smith of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Third place went to “The Tennis Racket,” an examination of match-fixing by Heidi Blake and John Templon of BuzzFeed News and Simon Cox of the BBC.

The Meyer Award is meant to recognize “the best uses of social science methods in journalism.” Awards will be presented March 4 in Jacksonville, Florida at the 2017 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference.

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