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First Winners Named in Disability Awards Contest

A series exposing the routine failure on the part of police to protect the developmentally disabled at California care institutions is the inaugural winner of the Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.

California Watch, part of The Center for Investigative Reporting, is the recipient of the international award, the first devoted exclusively to disability coverage. The award includes a $5,000 prize and is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University under a grant from Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who also supports the Schneider Family Book Awards.

CIR’s award-winning package of stories, “Broken Shield,” was written and reported by Ryan Gabrielson. Carrie Ching and Marina Luz produced an accompanying animated video, titled “In Jennifer’s Room.”

Ryan Gabrielson
Ryan Gabrielson

“With painstaking thoroughness and dynamic storytelling, reporter Ryan Gabrielson showed how a California police force designed to protect developmentally disabled patients failed to investigate horrible, violent abuse of patients,” said contest judge Tim McGuire, the Frank Russell Chair of Journalism at the Cronkite School. “The stories make you mad and break your heart at the same time. And, most important, they got real results. Severely developmentally disabled patients are safer today because of Gabrielson’s work.”

The second-place award, with a $1,500 prize, went to Gareth Cook for his New York Times Magazine piece “The Autism Advantage.” The story details how autistic workers at one innovative Danish company are being drawn into the modern economy and excelling at their jobs.

Two honorable mention prizes of $500 each also were awarded. They went to Daphnee Denis and Hoda Emam for a video documentary, “Playing by Ear.” The video, which focuses on one man’s dedication to goalball, a fast-paced sport designed for the visually impaired, was published at Narratively, a platform developed in 2012 that features in-depth stories around a different theme each week. The site was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2013.

The second honorable mention award went to Broughton Coburn for a long-form piece he wrote for Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. “Second Chapter: A Portrait of Barry Corbet” chronicles how a famed mountaineer continued to enjoy the outdoors after a helicopter crash left him paralyzed from the waist down.

The first-place entry, “Broken Shield,” also was a 2013 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. Additionally, it won a 2012 George Polk Award and a 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. Gabrielson will accept the Schneider Award and discuss his work as part of the “Must See Mondays” speaker series at the Cronkite School on Nov. 25 at 7 p.m.

Judges reviewed 72 entries from journalists around the world. In addition to McGuire, the judges were Tony Coelho, former U.S. congressman and primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Leon Dash, the Swanlund Chair Professor of Journalism and the director of the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Cyndi Jones, former director of The Center for an Accessible Society; and Jennifer Longdon, a disability rights advocate and former chair of the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues.

“When I first agreed to judge this contest, I thought, ‘Hey, how many entries could there be anyway? Maybe 20, and half worth a second look,’” Jones said. “Well 70-plus entries later, as we began final deliberations, we still had 15 entries on the table, all of which were great. Not easy by any means. The entries were terrific and so varied in disability, slant, topic, style, medium and length. This was a terrifically wonderful problem to have.”

People with some kind of mental or physical disability make up at least 19 percent of the U.S. population; however, people with disabilities are frequently under-covered by the mainstream press or that coverage is inaccurate or incomplete, Schneider said. “The commonest stories are about a cure for a condition or a superhuman who overcomes the disability. I wanted to help highlight good stories and chose to work with the NCDJ and the Cronkite School because of their commitment to fair and accurate journalism that includes diversity.”

The goal of the contest is to help set a standard for disability reporting, said Kristin Gilger, associate dean of the Cronkite School and director of the NCDJ. “We want to hold up as an example work that displays a deep and nuanced understanding of the issues and challenges experienced by the millions of people who live with physical or mental disabilities,” she said. “This year’s winners did that far beyond our expectations, and they did it by telling compelling human stories and by holding power accountable.”

About the Winners

First Place: “Broken Shield”

Ryan Gabrielson covers public safety for The Center for Investigative Reporting. He was a 2009-2010 investigative reporting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, his reporting for the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., exposed that immigration enforcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office undermined criminal investigations. That work was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Gabrielson also has investigated scholarship charities that were committing tax fraud and widespread academic and financial malfeasance at the nation’s largest community college district. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Gabrielson’s work has received numerous national and state honors, including a George Polk Award and the Sigma Delta Chi Award. He began his career at The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and studied journalism at the University of Arizona.

Carrie Ching is an independent multimedia journalist based in the Bay Area. She spent six years at CIR producing award-winning multimedia and graphic journalism. The “In Jennifer’s Room” graphic video produced by Ching won the 2013 News Emmy for innovative reporting.

Marina Luz did illustrations for the “In Jennifer’s Room” video. She runs her design studio, HONEYLUX, out of Oakland, Calif., where she does illustration, branding and letterpress printing. She is a graduate of Stanford University.

Second Place: “The Autism Advantage”

Gareth Cook is a Pulitzer Prize-winning magazine journalist, a contributor to and the editor of a new book series, “The Best American Infographics.” His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine,, Wired, Scientific American, Salon and elsewhere. He also is editor of Scientific American’s “Mind Matters” neuroscience blog. Cook has worked in writing and editing positions at The Washington Monthly, Foreign Policy and U.S. News & World Report. He was news editor of The Boston Phoenix before moving to The Boston Globe, where he edited the Globe’s Sunday Ideas section. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he has won a National Academies Communication Award and the Woods Hole Ocean Science Journalism Award. He is a graduate of Brown University.

Honorable Mention: “Playing by Ear”

Daphnee Denis is a French multimedia journalist based in London. A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Cambridge University, she currently works for Monocle 24, the international radio station affiliated with Monocle magazine. Her work also has appeared in Slate, Slate France and other publications. She has held editing and producing positions at video production companies such as Radical Media, Feature Story News and Storyhunter. She was awarded the Nona Balakian award for literary criticism in 2012.

Hoda Emam is news producer and anchor of a daily live business show at Thomson Reuters in New York. Previously, she was a contributor to ABC News, CBS News and the United Nations Population Fund. In addition, she was a Middle East correspondent for a local TV station based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Emam holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a concentration in digital media. In 2012, as a Scripps Howard Fellow, Emam traveled to Italy and covered the influx of Libyan refugees in Italy following the recent Libyan revolution. In 2013, she was chosen as a United Nations Foundation Press Fellow. She is currently producing a documentary, “Shot in the Dark,” focusing on a group of visually impaired athletes.

Honorable Mention: “Second Chapter: A Portrait of Barry Corbet”

Broughton Coburn has written articles for New Age, The Denver Post Magazine, Onearth and other magazines. For two of the past three decades, he has lived in the Himalaya of Nepal, Tibet and India, writing and overseeing development and environmental conservation efforts for the World Bank, UNESCO, World Wildlife Fund and other agencies. He has written or edited seven books, including two national bestsellers and a title published by Crown in May of this year, “The Vast Unknown: America’s First Ascent of Everest.” A graduate of Harvard College, Coburn is on the faculty of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and is a visiting associate professor at Colorado College.