Monday, March 28, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
One of the nation’s largest and oldest journalism awards programs has honored the Sun for two accomplishments — citing the series “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas” as the finest example of print journalism in 2010, and crediting LasVegasSun.com for the best example of innovative journalism for its pioneering efforts to elevate the level of online discussion among readers.
In its National Headliners Awards, the Press Club of Atlantic City named “Do No Harm” as “Best of Show” among the entries from newspapers of all circulation sizes and specifically awarded the project first place for investigative journalism. Runners-up in that category went to “The Hidden Life of Guns” by The Washington Post and “Deadly Neglect” by the Chicago Tribune.
In winning the innovation award, the Sun was recognized for successfully tackling a problem that has bedeviled online journalism ever since the door was opened for readers to comment about stories. The practice has frequently devolved into vitriolic exchanges among readers hiding behind anonymous handles.
The Sun instituted a two-tiered reader comment system, allowing those who prove their identity and register on the site to comment on stories. Those comments remain permanently attached to the story after it is archived.
Other comments, by unregistered readers, are attached to the story but can only be viewed by linking to them on a separate page, and are removed after 72 hours.
The series “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas,” which revealed how patients are infected or injured while hospitalized, previously won first-place honors in the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards and the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, sponsored by Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
“Do No Harm,” which represented more than two years of reporting, identified the preventable infections and injuries — including surgical mishaps — that have occurred in Las Vegas hospitals. The series was based on a review of 2.9 million patient billing records that had been turned over by hospitals to the state for analysis, but which had gone unexamined until the Sun obtained them.
Marshall Allen and Alex Richards set out to impose a new openness about the quality of hospital care and to hold facilities accountable for patient outcomes. Their findings, presented in a five-part newspaper series and a multimedia presentation at LasVegasSun.com, has prompted some hospitals to post patient care data that previously were not publicly disclosed, and triggered bills in the Nevada Legislature to force hospitals to be more transparent in the disclosure of data about the quality of patient care.
To put the findings in human context, Allen interviewed 250 doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and patients who told their stories of harm suffered in Las Vegas hospitals. Allen also examined the fundamental reasons why Las Vegas hospitals are deficient in various areas, and concluded with suggestions of what they can do to improve patient care, based on successful initiatives elsewhere in the country.
To complement the reporting of Allen and Richards, the Sun built an elaborate multimedia site that included interactive graphics, video, documents and a forum for readers to share how they have been affected by hospital care in Las Vegas.