Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism

Seattle Times reporter Michael J. Berens received the 2010 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism in April 2011 for his
Michael J. Berens
comprehensive six-part series “Seniors for Sale: Exploiting the aged and frail in Washington’s adult family homes.”

Berens found that thousands of vulnerable elderly adults had been abused, neglected or exploited for profit in many of Washington’s more than 2,800 adult family homes. He also discovered an underlying cause for his findings: Caseworkers trying to meet quotas were transferring nursing home residents into the homes to reduce the state’s Medicaid costs and save money.

In awarding the prize, judges praised the series for its outstanding enterprise reporting and for the crucial public service it provided. Berens’ work was exhaustive: He interviewed more than 250 people; filed almost 50 state public-records requests to obtain more than 15,000 pages of documents; acquired and analyzed computer databases and thousands of pages of disciplinary actions from “There have been many reforms as a result of the series, and I think that’s one of the most gratifying parts of investigative reporting – knowing that people are paying attention.”
– Michael J. Berens
Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services; and created a database listing adult-family-home enforcement actions from 1995 through 2009.

The “Seniors for Sale” series in print was accompanied online by video interviews with key players, a directory of the state’s adult family homes, resources for readers including information on how to choose a home or report abuse, a profile of an adult family home that works, and a searchable database of adult home violations, which was compiled by Berens.

“Seniors for Sale” won a number of other national journalism awards including The National Press Club’s Consumer Journalism Award for newspapers; a Gerald Loeb Award; the Edgar A. Poe Award, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award; and first-place honors from the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors.

Judges for the prize were Anna Gorman, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and a 2011 Nieman Fellow; Amy Nutt, a staff writer for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey and a 2005 Nieman Fellow; and Walter Robinson, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University who spent more than 30 years at The Boston Globe as both a reporter and editor specializing in political and investigative stories. Two additional 2011 Nieman Fellows, Michael Fitzgerald, a freelance reporter based in the Boston area, and Deb Price, Washington correspondent for The Detroit News, assisted the judges in the selection process.

The Worth Bingham Prize honors exceptional investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is being ill-served. Established in 1967 by Worth Bingham’s family and friends, the annual prize has been administered and presented by the Nieman Foundation since 2008 and includes a cash award of $20,000. The award honors the memory of Worth Bingham, a 1954 Harvard College graduate who achieved prominence as an investigative journalist and was active in numerous civic endeavors before his death in 1966.

The Bingham Prize award ceremony is made possible each year by the generous support of Joan and Clara Bingham, Worth Bingham’s wife and daughter.