Center wins first Pulitzer Prize

A landmark Center for Public Integrity investigation detailing controversial denials of black lung benefits to coal miners has been honored with a Pulitzer Prize.

The winning series, “Breathless and Burdened: Dying from Black Lung, Buried by Law and Medicine,” was a year-long investigation by Center reporter Chris Hamby illuminating how doctors and lawyers working at the behest of the coal industry helped defeat benefit claims of coal miners who were sick and dying of black lung disease.

One part of the three-part, 25,000-word series was produced in partnership with the ABC News Investigative Unit, whose work included an in-depth Nightline segment. The series won in the category of Investigative Reporting.

Related: Behind the story: 'Breathless and Burdened'

The Pulitzers, administered by Columbia University, are widely considered the most prestigious prizes in journalism. The award, announced this afternoon, marks a first for the Center for Public Integrity.

“The Center for Public Integrity could not be prouder of this incredible honor — our first Pulitzer Prize as one of the leading nonprofit, digital, investigative news organizations,” said Bill Buzenberg, executive director. “I want to pay a special tribute to investigative reporter Chris Hamby for his non-stop dedication to the black lung project over the last year. Without his incredible efforts on behalf of sick and dying coal mine workers, we would not have won this singular prize. One result of his work is that miners with black lung will finally be getting the financial benefits they deserve.

Hamby reviewed thousands of pages of previously hidden legal filings and created original databases. His reporting revealed that industry-hired lawyers withheld key evidence in miners’ cases, and doctors at the John Hopkins Medical Institutions consistently denied the existence of advanced black lung on X-rays – even when other experts saw evidence of the disease. Hamby traveled to Appalachian coal country, interviewing miners sick from black lung, and survivors of those killed by the lung disease.

Related: The Center for Public Integrity's response to ABC News

“This was more than just a project to me," Hamby said. "I spent a lot of time in West Virginia with people who were slowly suffocating to death and they had been essentially screwed by a system that was completely stacked against them and they had no recourse. These are some of the most voiceless people in the country."

Hamby, 28, is a Nashville native and holds a masters degree from the University of Missouri and a bachelors from the University of Richmond. He knew he wanted to be a reporter from the age of 16. His first full-time journalism job was with the Center, where he was an intern in 2010.

So what's next?

Related: Read 'Breathless and Burdened' via e-book

"I want to continue to tell stories that give power and say to the voiceless and hold the powerful entities, be they public or private, responsible," he said.

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.