2017 Winner
 

“ALLEGIANT AIR” – TAMPA BAY TIMES

 

William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash, and Anthony Cormier

William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash, and Anthony Cormier

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air became the most profitable airline in the U.S. by relying on ultra-cheap fares and a fleet of used jets. The low-cost carrier expanded quickly, but when Allegiant’s planes began experiencing high mechanical failure rate in 2015, executives at the company adamantly denied the problem and instead blamed the media and its own pilots union. Reporters at The Tampa Bay Times used the Freedom of Information Act to gather thousands of pages of reports about airline mechanical failures from the Federal Aviation Administration, and then crosschecked this data with information from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a private aviation tracking company. The newspaper’s findings showed that Allegiant’s breakdown record was far and away worse than any other major U.S. carrier, with nearly half of its 86 planes failing at least once in midair in 2015. Reporters also showed that the FAA, which ensures that airlines are operating safely, did not fine Allegiant, subject the airline to stepped-up monitoring efforts or order a single corrective action even after the many problems surfaced. As a result of the published investigation, Allegiant’s stance shifted. CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. acknowledged the company’s aircraft problems and announced plans to retire its aging fleet of jetliners.

 

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“DANGEROUS DOSES” – CHICAGO TRIBUNE

 

Sam Roe, Karisa King, and Ray Long

Dangerous drug combinations are a major public health risk, hospitalizing tens of thousands of people each year at a time when the percentage of U.S. residents who report taking multiple prescription drugs has been increasing. Reporter Sam Roe and his colleagues at The Chicago Tribune tested 255 local pharmacy stores (including CVS, Kmart and Walgreens) to see how often they would dispense prescriptions for two drugs that, when taken together, can lead to kidney failure and death. More than half of the pharmacists sold them the medications without mentioning the potential danger. One reason cited for this error: with chain pharmacies promoting ever-faster service, pharmacists race through the legally required safety review and, instead, speedily dispense the drugs. The series also featured a unique collaboration between the reporters, data scientists, and cellular researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center to hunt for other deadly drug combinations; the two-year project identified four drug combinations linked to a heart condition that could lead to a potentially fatal arrhythmia. The newspaper’s investigation led to major reforms in corporate and government policies, and prompted the governor of Illinois to take numerous safety measures.

 

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