Reuters Wins 2017 John B. Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting | Columbia Journalism School
Photo: REUTERS/Whitney Curtis.
Photo: REUTERS/Whitney Curtis.

Reuters Wins 2017 John B. Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting

July 12, 2017 - The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism announced today that Reuters has won the 2017 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for their groundbreaking series “Unsafe at Any Level - Exposing the hidden hazards of lead poisoning across America” by reporters M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer. Pell and Schneyer conducted a first of its kind data exploration of lead poisoning by analyzing millions of childhood blood lead test results at the census-tract and zip-code level.  In the end, they found nearly 3,000 communities with poisoning rates at least double that of Flint, Michigan.

Finalists for the 2017 Oakes Award are the Center for Public Integrity for their investigative series “Science for Sale” and the Washington Post for their multimedia reporting  “Mobile Power - Human Toll.” “Science for Sale” examines the impact of growing corporate influence on scientific research as government-funded research shrinks. Co-published with, the investigation revealed how corporations are paying scientific consultants in an effort to contest previously accepted facts. In “Mobile Power,” Washington Post reporters traveled the world to show the true global cost of the lithium ion batteries used to power consumer electronics like laptop computers and cellphones.  In riveting videos and text, the journalists illustrated the dangerous conditions for workers in Congo, and the devastating environmental impact on communities from China to South America.

The 2017 Oakes Award ceremony will be held at Columbia Journalism School on Thursday, September 28 and will honor the reporting of the 2017 Oakes winners and finalists. The winner will receive a $5,000 honorarium and the finalists will each receive $1,500 prizes.

Local Reporting Highlighted

In addition to the winner and finalists, the John B. Oakes Award jury cited two outstanding examples of local reporting among the entries for the 2017 awards. The first is Habib Battah’s “A Dam Is Built In Paradise” published by Take Part. Battah investigated a Lebanese state dam project worth up to $1 billion that, as Battah reported, “may destroy one of the Middle East’s most biodiverse valleys, endanger rare wildlife, deplete national aquifers and the capital’s water supply, pose severe seismic hazards and risk the lives and livelihoods of villages downstream.” The second local story is The Missoulian’s “Timber Wars.” After the closure of two lumber mills in Montana, the Missoulian took a deep dive into the timber industry. Reporter Rob Chaney decided to use his own family - three generations of Montanans - as a storytelling vehicle which cut through  policy jargon and laid a human foundation.

Unsafe at Any Level - Exposing the hidden hazards of lead poisoning across America
Journalists: M.B. Pell, Data Journalist; Joshua Schneyer, Investigative Reporter

Judges’ Citation: A high-impact investigation that uncovered thousands of communities with lead poisoning rates higher than those in Flint, Michigan, whose lead contamination made national headlines last year. The project included an interactive map that tracked childhood blood testing results, exposing stunning health disparities and allowing the public to visualize local lead exposure rates for the first time. In a comprehensive series of articles, the reporters also revealed that millions of young children weren’t tested for lead despite state and federal laws requiring it. In one area, the reporters exposed errors in a CDC analysis that concluded lead contamination posed no health risk -- while their data analysis found nearly a quarter of the children tested over 10 years had been poisoned.  The series led to action at federal, state and local levels to close gaps in lead testing and curb lead poisoning.

FINALIST -  The Center for Public Integrity
Science for Sale
Journalists: David Heath, Senior Reporter; Jim Morris, Managing Editor; Jie Jenny Zou (CJS ‘13), Environment and Labor Reporter

Judges’ Citation: As government support for scientific research has declined, private industry has exploited the opportunity, funding tainted science to serve their own interests. While others have identified singular cases of this phenomenon, this sweeping series by the Center for Public Integrity is the first to capture its enormity  -- and the profound consequences for all of us. These scientific guns-for-hire produce fraudulent results that serve corporations at the expense of the health and safety of American citizens. As a former Environmental Protection Agency scientist put it: “It seems like you can just make up your own facts now.” This outstanding project should be required reading for judges and regulators.

FINALIST - The Washington Post
Mobile Power - Human Toll
Journalists: Todd C. Frankel, Business Reporter; Peter Whoriskey, Reporter; Jorge Ribas, Video Reporter; Michael Robinson Chavez, Photographer

Judges’ Citation: Like all the best reporting, the Washington Post's "Mobile Power-Human Toll" compels readers to look at the world in a new way.  It connects the smartphones in our pockets to environmental degradation and human suffering halfway around the globe, in the process revealing the high costs of clean tech. It is well written, thoroughly researched, and marvelously illustrated. The Post's team shows that it is possible to trace even the most convoluted of supply chains, provided, that is, that someone wants to.




About the Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers Masters of Science, Masters of Arts, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, The John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Awards.
Caroline Martinet
Program Manager, Oakes Award
Chantal De Soto
Communications Manager
2017 Oakes Award Ceremony Video