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Two Prestigious Awards for DLSPH’s Investigative Journalism Bureau

June 7/2022

By Elaine Smith

Within two short years of its launch, the Investigative Journalism Bureau (IJB) at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health has already garnered two prestigious journalism awards and received a nomination for a third.

In 2021, the bureau’s inaugural year, it was named a finalist for the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism. This year, IJB director Rob Cribb and his team of staff reporters, interns and students were co-winners of the 2021 Mindset Award for Reporting on the Mental Health of Young People, announced at the May 29 Canadian Association of Journalists’ gala, awarded for the series Generation Distress, published in the Toronto Star. The series explores the spike in demand for youth mental health services, the pressure the demand places on institutions and potential solutions.

The Mindset Award is sponsored by the Canadian Mental Health Association and recognizes journalists the year following the publication of their work. In addition to Cribb, the IJB team recipients are Morgan Bockneck (Toronto Star), Charlie Buckley, Giulia Fiaoni, Declan Keogh, Radha Kohly, Liam G. McCoy and Danielle Orr.

For us to win a best in health-care reporting award in the year of COVID with a story that’s not about COVID is gratifying,” says Cribb, a long-time, award-winning investigative reporter with the Toronto Star.

The IJB also earned a 2022 Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Media Award for its reporting on the increasingly deadly composition of opioid drugs being sold on Ontario streets. The RNAO Award honours journalists for outstanding work that helps Ontarians better understand nursing and health care. It was awarded to Cribb, Mashal Butt and Keogh.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our School community recognized that we need to take leadership in creating impact from our research; that scholarship doesn’t do any good sitting on a shelf,” says DLSPH Dean Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown. “Our journalism programs, including IJB, grew out of that strategy, and I’m thrilled to see their superb work being recognized by important stakeholders like Ontario’s nurses.”

The IJB is an outgrowth of Cribb’s passion for investigative journalism and his experiments in building a collaborative model for practising it. Cribb teaches investigative reporting to students in DLSPH’s Certificate in Health Impact program and at Toronto Metropolitan University and was dismayed that there was no publication opportunity for many excellent student projects.

“In doing long-term investigative work, we’d consult with academics and they became a kind of partner, so I decided to widen the tent and integrate them as collaborators,” says Cribb. “Steini Brown astutely saw that journalism was a powerful way of reaching a wider audience. Public health research is so vital to the day-to-day lives of so many Canadians, but it has to be accessible, because it plays an important role in public debate. He welcomed our investigative branch of journalism into the ivory tower.”

The result, says Cribb, is a collaboration with “academics whose research helps fuel our reporting and the opportunity to go much deeper into a subject through partnerships with PhD students and law students who help us access government records. The result is a much richer, more nuanced, in-depth story because we have this network and this trust. It’s a win for us, a win for the researchers and a win for the public.”

Dr. Radha Kohly, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at U of T, was one of the IJB journalists who earned the Mindset Award. Kohly was enrolled in the DLSPH Certificate in Health Impact program and part of the course was pitching stories to various news outlets, one of which — about the increasing numbers of adolescent youth presenting with self-harm at emergency departments — caught the attention of Toronto Star.

Kohly joined the Generation Distress investigative team and found the experience to be “an inspiring collaboration in every possible way.

“Rob is an incredible teacher and mentor, he is generous with his knowledge, has high standards and guides his team to go deeper and he somehow does this with a humble and gentle hand.  says Kohly. “It is exciting to be part of the Stein IJB team. Rob teaches his students how important it is to advocate through journalism and shows us how the impact of this work is significant and far reaching.”

Kohly is delighted by the series’ influence.

“It has highlighted the need for more funding in mental health, helped families realize they aren’t alone and raised overall public awareness,” she says.

Cribb, too, is pleased.

“We’ve seen a remarkable increase in public awareness and pressure on lawmakers on this issue,” Cribb says. “There has been a huge monetary investment by governments in mental health services. I don’t draw a straight line, but the series contributed to vigorous public awareness and discussions that led to huge, unprecedented investments across the country. Since money was one of the main shortcomings behind a lack of access to care, I’m heartened.

“Awards, too, are wonderful because they raise awareness about our work and buy us more goodwill so the IJB can continue doing these stories.”