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Journalism professor wins prestigious Polk Award

Steve Doig
February 21, 2012

Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, has won a prestigious George Polk Award for his work with California Watch, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

Doig and his California Watch colleagues Christina Jewett and Lance Williams are the winners of the 2011 George Polk Award for Medical Reporting for a yearlong series of articles that exposed a pattern of suspicious Medicare billing at Prime Healthcare Services, a California-based hospital chain.

Doig, a computer-assisted reporting specialist, helped Jewett and Williams analyze more than 51 million patient records during the course of their investigation. Their findings revealed that the chain routinely billed Medicare for treatment of rare medical conditions, resulting in substantial bonus payments to the company.         

The “Decoding Prime” series, which appeared in publications across California, led to increased scrutiny by state and federal regulators of Prime Heathcare Services’ billing practices. In September, after hearing testimony that cited the California Watch series, the California attorney general’s office declined a request by the company to open a new hospital in the state. And in December, the FBI began investigating the chain, interviewing former billing administrators and patients who were quoted in the stories.

Doig said it was gratifying to see the team’s work recognized.  

“I was delighted to get that affirmation that what we were doing was important enough to get recognition,” he said.

But while he appreciated the accolades, Doig said that equally rewarding was the opportunity to be involved in groundbreaking journalism that made an impact.

“I thoroughly enjoyed doing it,” he said. “Getting a prize for it is the icing on top of an already really good cake.”

Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, called Doig "an inspiration to his students and faculty colleagues alike."

"It is a testament to Steve's tremendous journalistic skills and passion for our field that he can produce this type of probing, insightful journalism while serving on the faculty," Callahan said. "He is a role model for all of us."

Prior to joining the Cronkite faculty in 1996, Doig had a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter, including 19 years at the Miami Herald. As a reporter for the Herald, Doig won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1993 for his analysis of the damage patterns from Hurricane Andrew that showed how weakened building codes and poor construction practices contributed to the extent of the disaster. Other awards include the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1994 and the Investigative Reporters & Editors Award in 1995.

The George Polk Awards are given annually by Long Island University to recognize special achievement in journalism, with particular emphasis on investigative and enterprise reporting. The Polk Awards were established in 1949 in memory of CBS correspondent George Polk, who was murdered in Greece in 1948 while covering that country’s civil war.

The 2011 Polk Awards will be presented at a luncheon in New York on April 5.