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WESA and Spotlight PA win national PMJA award for coverage of Pennsylvania's opioid settlement funds

Public Media Journalists Association Award Logo
Courtesy of the Public Media Journalists Association
The Public Media Journalists Association presented 269 first- and second-place awards across 33 categories to public media organizations in its 2024 contest.

The Public Media Journalists Association has recognized 90.5 WESA with a top award in its annual national contest to honor journalism produced by public media newsrooms in 2023.

The PMJA awarded a second-place award in the category for “Collaborative Effort” to WESA and Spotlight PA on June 7 at its annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The award recognizes the news organizations’ jointly produced, ongoing series that tracks and analyzes how Pennsylvania county officials have spent or plan to spend tens of millions of dollars they received in opioid settlement money.

The PMJA Annual Awards honor organizations and newsrooms, rather than individual journalists. This award recognizes work produced and reported for the series in 2023 by WESA reporter Kate Giammarise, whose coverage focuses on poverty, social services and affordable housing, in collaboration with Ed Mahon of Spotlight PA. Former WESA health & science reporter Sarah Boden also contributed to the series.

In the series, Giammarise and Mahon obtained and analyzed opioid settlement payments to determine which Pennsylvania counties received the most money per resident to help respond to an epidemic that continues to kill thousands of Pennsylvanians each year.

Mahon and Boden also examined the use of syringe service programs, which are illegal in most of Pennsylvania but have been shown to reduce HIV and acute hepatitis C infections. Expanding these types of programs is listed as one of the core strategies for using opioid settlement money in Pennsylvania.

“In this accountability series, WESA and Spotlight PA have documented and illuminated the allocation of billions of dollars intended to help Pennsylvanians respond to the opioid epidemic,” said Cindi Lash, vice president of news for Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp., the parent organization of WESA.

“This collaboration resulted in a statewide examination of transparency surrounding decision-making around those allocations, as well as eventual uses for those public funds and their impact on people and programs,” she added.

“No other news organizations in Pennsylvania have reported on this critical issue with such consistency or scope. We’re proud of the work Kate, Ed and Sarah have produced to cast light on how and where these urgently needed funds are distributed.”

PMJA presented 269 first- and second-place awards across 33 categories to public media organizations in its 2024 contest.