Upton Sinclair Award Winner Laments Media Apathy

Going against the mainstream grain, Jim Morris, senior reporter for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, has consistently—and persistently—written stories that show how the deck is often stacked against workers in hazardous industries—and how it's stacked against their families after the workers have died on the job.

PORTLAND, Ore. — "For reasons I don't fully understand, investigative worker health and safety stories are still a rarity in mainstream media," said Jim Morris, senior reporter for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity. Morris has made a career of writing precisely those kinds of stories, and for his efforts he has received more than 50 awards, including his latest, bestowed Tuesday at AIHce 2011: the Upton Sinclair Memorial Award for Outstanding EHS Investigative Reporting.

"In my reporting over the years, I've sometimes detected an odd bias [in the media] against those who work in the oil and gas fields, refineries, commercial fishing, and similar dangerous occupations," said Morris, delivering the 11th annual Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture prior to receiving the award. "It's as if it is tragic but hardly shocking when workers in these industries die. 'They knew what they were getting into, didn't they?' It's a stunning bias and lack of compassion." Going against the mainstream grain, Morris has consistently—and persistently—written stories that show how the deck is often stacked against workers in hazardous industries—and how it's stacked against their families after the workers have died on the job. Morris's work has included a series on lung disease ("Silicosis should have been eradicated many, many decades ago, but it obviously has not been," he said), fatalities in the construction industry in Texas (for the Houston Chronicle), cancer in the PVC industry (in a series, also for the Houston Chronicle, called "In Strictest Confidence"), manganese risks from welding fumes (resulting in a story in Mother Jones magazine called "Welding's Toxic Legacy," detailing how one longtime welder developed Parkinson's Disease), the marketing of the asbestos trade in the developing world (including a 2010 story focusing on asbestos-caused deaths in Brazil), and the explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Washington State.

"One thing I've learned is to answer a question that hardboiled newspaper editors used to ask reporters: 'Why should I care?'" he said. "It's a question that takes complex policy issues down to the personal level. This is the approach I've tried to take, with some success....

"All of those stories included statistics, documents, data, and quotes--maybe even too many sometimes—but what brought the stories to life and gave them resonance with readers was the focus within the stories on the individual workers involved," Morris said.

"Properly crafted and presented, worker stories can have dramatic impact," he added. "They can give workers a voice and an awareness that 'someone is watching out for me.'"

Closing his lecture, titled "'Why Should I Care?' Humanizing Worker Safety in the Media," Morris said industrial hygiene professionals have a role in media coverage that can positively influence worker safety and health. "Journalists usually don't know about the emerging threats," he told the audience of about 250 attendees in the Oregon Ballroom. "I and other journalists rely on information from people like you for the story. It can have a powerful impact."

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Get the Ultimate Guide to OSHA Recordkeeping

    OSHA’s Form 300A posting deadline is February 1! Are you prepared? To help answer your key recordkeeping questions, IndustrySafe put together this guide with critical compliance information.

  • Steps to Conduct a JSA

    We've put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you perform a job safety analysis (JSA), which includes a pre-built, JSA checklist and template, steps of a JSA, list of potential job hazards, and an overview of hazard control hierarchy.

  • Levels of a Risk Matrix

    Risk matrices come in many different shapes and sizes. Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively.

  • Free Safety Management Software Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Management Software helps organizations to improve safety by providing a comprehensive toolset of software modules to help businesses identify trouble spots; reduce claims, lost days, OSHA fines; and more.

  • Industry Safe
TenCate FR Technology

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - October 2020

    October 2020

    Featuring:

    • FACILITY SECURITY
      EHS Compliance: Make it Personal
    • FOOT PROTECTION
      Choosing the Right Safety Shoe for Your Industry
    • HAND PROTECTION
      A Requirements Checklists for Work Safety Gloves
    • COVID-19 MANAGEMENT
      Contemporary Issues in HSE Management
    View This Issue