Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano win DFMie for public service for ‘Cost of Dying’

Cost of Dying
Headline: Cost of Dying
Outlet: San Jose Mercury
Journalist: Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano
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Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano of the San Jose Mercury News win the DFMie for public service for their Cost of Dying project.

The nomination by their editors explained the project and its impact:

The San Jose Mercury News is proud to nominate reporter Lisa M. Krieger and photojournalist Dai Sugano for a 2012 DFMie in Public Service for their yearlong examination of the physical, financial and emotional “Cost of Dying.”

Through powerful narratives, interactive online graphics and poignant videos, the nine-part series demystifies the excruciating choices that so many of us face but so few of us understand as we and our loved ones encounter the end of life.

When Krieger’s ailing father went into the hospital in July 2011, she found herself by his side, struggling to determine which advanced medical procedures to authorize, and which to avoid. What would he want? What could she justify? And did the cost – the bill for the final 10 days of his care came to $323,000 – make any sense at all?

Through her eloquent and universal voice, Krieger drew hundreds of reader responses in emails, online comments and letters that led to a remarkable series. The highlights included:

Choosing How You Die” — A story and step-by-step online graphic that educated readers on how to take control of their lives with crucial end-of-life planning tools.

At life’s end, care differs’’ — A data analysis of Bay Area hospitals that revealed how we die – and how much it costs – depends largely on where we get care.

Gayla’s Goodbye’’ – A video (above) and photo essay that shared the extraordinary insights of 70-year-old Gayla Caliva in her final months of life, after she chose to forgo treatment for kidney failure and die at home in the company of loved ones.

Feeding Dilemma” — A story that explored how the breakthrough feeding tube, designed to help ailing infants, evolved into a morally questionable means of prolonging life that studies now show is more harm than help for many elderly people.

Over the course of the series, Krieger and Sugano received hundreds of responses like this one from a woman who had just made the decision to forgo a feeding tube for a loved one, in essence allowing him to die: “I really was doubting my choice to keep the tube out, and this (story) was an answer to a prayer, literally, that has helped me know that I have done the right thing.’’

In the end, the series drew on lessons from readers, health care professionals and policymakers to prescribe a cure for America’s sorry state of dying.

It is a rare privilege for a news organization to engage in such a meaningful conversation with its readers. That conversation continues: Krieger has moderated panel discussions and spoken to groups throughout California. The project won first place honors from the Association of Health Care Journalists and Northern California Society of Professional Journalists.

The project also has won two monthly DFMies already, one for Krieger and Sugano’s work and one for Paiching Wei’s development of an iPad app.

Judges explained why they chose Cost of Dying as the public service winner:

The San Jose Mercury News series Cost of Dying, pegged to a touching first-person account of a reporter’s loss of her father, is an exceptional example of public service journalism. Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano tackled the issue from beginning to end, explaining the challenges involved in end-of-life care with concrete examples. We especially appreciated that the series offered readers key information on how to face and avoid some of the toughest problems they themselves might face in such situations. The content helped demystify some of the incredibly difficult choices that dying people and their care-givers must make – ones that everyone encounters but so few of us are prepared for. The expert story telling and multimedia elements also greatly enhanced the series.

Other public service finalists were:

Lias M. Krieger

Lias M. Krieger

Krieger covers the Wow beat for The San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group, writing about science and medical research from Stanford University, the University of California and other Bay Area research facilities.

Her series “The Cost of Dying,” a chronicle of her father’s final days, has been awarded first place in 2012-2013 journalism contests: Multimedia Storytelling, Best of the West; Consumer/Feature (large newspapers), Association of Health Care Journalists; Explanatory Journalism, Society of Professional Journalists/Northern California; Series, San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. She leads Advance Directive workshops and has spoken to two dozen community groups about end-of-life care.

Krieger also has covered public health problems in Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. after Hurricane Katrina and rebel-held Sri Lanka after the 2004 East Asian tsunami.

Prior to joining The San Jose Mercury News in 1998, she was medical writer for The San Francisco Examiner, where for 12 years she covered the AIDS epidemic and other public health issues.

Krieger graduated from Duke University with a degree in Biology. She co-authored the book Incredible Voyage: Exploring the Human Body, published by National Geographic Press, and edited the University of California Press Book AIDS: A Community Response. She also authors the column “Wanderlust” for Bay Area News Group, describing outdoor adventures in the San Francisco Bay area.

A resident of Palo Alto, she is partial to anything involving mandolins, horses or swimming. You can find her on Twitter @lisamkrieger or Tout at lisamkrieger.

Dai Sugano

Dai Sugano

Sugano is an Emmy Award-winning photojournalist and senior multimedia editor at the San Jose Mercury News. He covers a wide range of assignments which have included rising economic inequality in China; poverty in India; Hmong refugees who have immigrated to the U.S.; California’s 2003 gubernatorial recall; and “Torn Apart,” a 30-minute documentary on a Bay Area family divided by immigration rules.

In 2008, “Uprooted,” which looked at displacement of a group of mobile home residents in Sunnyvale, won a national Emmy Award in New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming: Documentaries.  Other work has been nominated for an Emmy Award and a Pulitzer Prize in photography. He has received awards from EPpy, Best of the West, the National Press Photographers Association and other international and national photojournalism organizations.

Every year Sugano travels nationally for speaking engagements and workshops for journalism organizations. He is a 2002 graduate from San Jose State University with a photojournalism degree.

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