New York, New York, May 8, 2012 -- Columbia Journalism School has named John Branch, a New York Times sports reporter, as winner of the 2012 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award in recognition of his powerful writing skills in documenting the life and death of a professional hockey player known for his violence on the ice.
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 Coronel, Andie Tucher and Dale Maharidge served as this year’s judges. The award will be presented on Journalism Day, May 15th, as part of Columbia Journalism School’s graduation ceremonies.
About the Mike Berger Award
The Mike Berger Award honors in-depth human interest reporting in the tradition of Berger, the late New York Times reporter and “About New York” columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 1950 for his evocative 4,000-word story on deadline about the impact of a mass murderer's actions on the residents of Camden, N.J.
About the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
For the past century, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has been preparing journalists in a program that stresses academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912, the school offers Master of Science, Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. It is also home to numerous journalism prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the duPont-Columbia Awards and the National Magazine Awards. It also offers a number of professional development programs, including the Punch Sulzberger Program and the Spencer Fellowships for Education Reporting.