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‘Code Red,’ Howard Center’s Inaugural Project, Wins Top Professional Award For Innovative Storytelling

UMD’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and NPR were named the 2019 recipients of the National Press Foundation’s Innovative Storytelling Award for the first project by the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, “Code Red: Baltimore’s Climate


Josh Land , 301-405-1321


The University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and NPR were named the 2019 recipients of the National Press Foundation’s Innovative Storytelling Award on Wednesday for the first project by the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, “Code Red: Baltimore’s Climate Divide.”

The multimedia project explored the effects of rising temperatures on the health and lives of the residents of “urban heat islands” in Baltimore. It premiered in September on Merrill College’s Capital News Service, NPR, Baltimore’s WMAR-TV and the Associated Press.

“ ‘Code Red’ put the future of journalism on display, with its data visualizations, motion graphics and sensor technology, illustrating how young journalists can use new techniques and methods to serve communities,” Dean Lucy Dalglish said.

The NPF judges cited those methods in their decision.

“The student journalists involved with this project literally built new tools — hardware to collect hard data — that tracked temperatures over time to get a sense of the stultifying impact of summer in the city,” the NPF judges said. “The brilliance of their innovation may offer early tea leaves of how innovation will drive the future of newsrooms. The ‘Code Red’ project, done in collaboration with NPR, also gave readers a peek behind the scenes to see how journalism works.”

“Code Red” brought together professional reporters and students in the Merrill College with experts from across the University of Maryland. Baltimore-based Wide Angle Youth Media’s students also contributed by writing blog posts, working as photojournalists and helping build the sensors used in the project.

Led by Howard Center Director Kathy Best and Capital News Service Managing Director Marty Kaiser, the months-long investigation examined the impact of excessive heat on the lives and health of residents of urban heat islands, who are generally poor and racial minorities. The findings were presented in stories, photos, graphics, videos and interactives.

"We are beyond thrilled with this recognition for the inaugural project of the Howard Center,” Best and Kaiser said in a joint statement. “It defined the power of collaboration — with UMD's student-powered Capital News Service, with nationwide media partner NPR, with Wide Angle Youth Media's creative students, with experts in the Schools of Engineering and Public Health at UMD, and with our incredibly talented faculty and students, who built the trust on the streets of Baltimore that made our innovative storytelling possible.

“We hope this project illuminated for readers the disproportionate toll the climate crisis already is taking, giving them more informed voices for future public policy debates.”

Howard Center data editor Sean Mussenden and assistant professor Krishnan Vasudevan taught students and members of the community to build low-cost sensors to gather temperature and humidity data from inside Baltimore homes, inspired by a project done in New York.

“The project produced startling data that the ‘Code Red’ team used as the foundation to tell an important story about heat, inequality and the climate crisis,” Mussenden said.

Through an additional $50,000 grant from ONA, Merrill College will share its “Code Red” sensor technology as well as its data and reporting methodology at no cost with news organizations or community groups throughout the country that want to explore the impact the climate crisis is having in their backyards.

NPR produced stories based on the partnership that aired on “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”

“We’re particularly proud of the way our team and the Howard Center’s journalists worked together to produce something so engaging and important,” NPR senior investigations editor Robert Little said. “Collaborations like this are key to NPR’s strategy to serve its audience, and we’re excited to do more.”

The AP distributed the project nationwide; stories appeared on more than 700 national and regional news websites, including The Washington Post and ABC News.

The Baltimore Sun also published the full project.

“Code Red” was supported by the Scripps Howard Foundation and grants from the Park Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education.

“All of us at the Scripps Howard Foundation and The E.W. Scripps Company are proud of the important work being done at the Howard Center,” Scripps Howard Foundation CEO/President Liz Carter said. “ ‘Code Red’ exemplifies the kind of innovative reporting that legendary newsman and Howard Center namesake Roy W. Howard championed.”

The award will be presented at the NPF’s annual journalism awards dinner Feb. 13 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington. The winner will also present at an educational event to explain and share the innovation behind the work.

This year marked the first since NPF merged its Innovative Storytelling Award with its Technology in Journalism Award. The Washington Post had won the previous three Innovative Storytelling awards, as well as the 2016 Technology in Journalism Award.


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