Columbia Journalism School

Berger Award: Past Winners

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.

Ann Barnard

Joanna Connors

Brendan McCarthy

Michael Paulson

Abigail Tucker


Lisa S. Redd, Associate Director, Berger Award
Columbia University Journalism School
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New York, NY 10027

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