Columbia Journalism School

Berger Award: Past Winners


Columbia Journalism School named Sheri Fink, a freelance reporter, as winner of the 2013 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for a set of pieces written for the New York Times, ProPublica, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune exploring the catastrophic consequences of bureaucratic, structural, and political failures during the deadly hurricane season of 2012.


The prize, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is awarded to a reporter for outstanding human-interest reporting.

Photo/Tony Cenicola

In her New York Times story, "A Queens High Rise Where Fear, Death and Myth Collided", Fink told of the efforts of volunteers to help elderly and disabled residents in Rockaway. She illustrates the factors that led to the death days of World War II veteran who was trapped in his apartment.

"All the players in the drama are portrayed sensitively but with healthy, even-handed detachment," concluded the jury. "There are no cardboard heroes or villains in the piece; they are not types but real people who found themselves caught in awful and complicated circumstances. Both the awfulness and the complications are made brilliantly clear."

Fink, who holds M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford, reports on science, health, and medicine for print, radio, and the web. She won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for her article, "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," co-published in 2009 by the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, about the life-and-death decisions made by the medical staff of one New Orleans hospital in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina. Fink is the author of "War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival" (Public Affairs, 2003) and "Five Days at Memorial," forthcoming from Crown.


Professors David HajduMichael Shapiro and Andie Tucher served as this year’s judges.


John Branch, a New York Times sports reporter, The New York Times, received the 2012 Mike Berger Award for his powerful writing skills in documenting the life and death of a professional hockey player known for his violence on the ice.


The prize, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is awarded to a reporter for an outstanding example of human-interest reporting.

Branch was selected from dozens of nominees for his three-part series “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer,” which documented how the culture of the violence-prone professional hockey led to the death of Derek Boogaard. The series was cited for extensive reporting and crafted writing that examined the disturbing embrace of violence in the National Hockey League that ultimately led to Boogaard’s death at the age of 28 in May 2011.

The judges recognized how Branch immersed himself in Boogaard’s life, using Boogaard’s own writing and scores of interviews to reconstruct how hockey killed the “enforcer” whose real job was not to play hockey, but to engage in brawls that fans expect.Their citation reads, in part: “Branch employs narrative story-telling to reveal how Boogaard’s brain was damaged by repeated concussions. It’s a vital piece of journalism, both a human-interest story in the best Mike Berger tradition and a devastating investigation into the dark side of professional sports, where for too long traumatic brain injury has been ignored.”

Professors Sheila CoronelAndie Tucher and Dale Maharidge served as this year’s judges.

Branch joined The New York in September 2005 as a reporter in sports. He was a sports columnist at The Fresno Bee from 2002 to 2005, and worked at the Colorado Springs Gazette as a business reporter from 1996 to 1998 and a sports reporter from 1998 to 2002.

More past winners:

Anne Barnard, The New York Times

Joanna Connors, The Plain Dealer

Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune

Michael Paulson, The Boston Globe

Abigail Tucker, The Baltimore Sun


Caroline Martinet, Program Manager, Professional Prizes
Columbia University Journalism School
2950 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

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