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NHPR’s 13th Step honored as a Pulitzer Prize finalist

Sara Plourde

For the first time in its 42-year history, New Hampshire Public Radio on Monday was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The prizes, awarded by Columbia University, recognize distinguished achievement in journalism and the arts.

NHPR’s Pulitzer honoree is The 13th Step, a reporting project and podcast about a culture of sexual misconduct and abuse of power in the addiction treatment industry. The Pulitzer Prize board recognized the NHPR team “for their gripping and extensively reported investigation of corruption and sexual abuse within the lucrative recovery industry that sought accountability despite legal pressure.”

The Pulitzer for audio journalism went to the Invisible Institute and USG Audio for the podcast You Didn’t See Nothin. Along with The 13th Step, the other finalist was NBC News.

Recognition by the Pulitzers capped a string of honors for The 13th Step and its production team. The project earned a duPont-Columbia Award and a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Lauren Chooljian, the host and lead reporter of The 13th Step, won a First Amendment Award, presented by the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Best Reporting award in the Podcast Academy’s Ambies competition.

Chooljian is a senior reporter/producer on NHPR’s Document team, which produced The 13th Step and other revealing long-form audio reporting projects, including Bear Brook Season Two: A True Crime Story.

Chooljian was cited by the Pulitzer board, along with Alison MacAdam, lead editor of the project; Jason Moon, senior reporter/producer; Dan Barrick, NHPR’s news director; and Katie Colaneri, NHPR’s senior editor of podcasts.

“We’re very grateful to be recognized by the Pulitzer jurors, and gratified to see this reporting have an impact – both here in New Hampshire and nationally,” Barrick said.

The 13th Step chronicles allegations of sexual abuse by the founder of New Hampshire’s largest addiction treatment center. Chooljian’s initial reporting for the project was followed by multiple acts of vandalism at the homes of NHPR journalists involved in that reporting and the homes of their families. Following investigations by the FBI and state and local authorities, a federal grand jury indicted four men for their roles in an alleged campaign of intimidation against NHPR journalists. Two have pleaded guilty to felony charges. A civil lawsuit brought against NHPR, its journalists, and some of their sources by Eric Spofford, a central subject of the reporting, was dismissed by a Rockingham County Superior Court judge earlier this year.

The project received support from The Fund for Investigative Journalism. Attorney Sigmund Schutz of the Preti Flaherty law firm was a core member of the team.

“Projects like The 13th Step demonstrate NHPR’s commitment to public service journalism about New Hampshire’s biggest issues, even in the face of the threats, violence, and litigation,” said Jim Schachter, NHPR’s president and chief executive officer. “Amid skepticism about the news media’s commitment to independent, fair-minded journalism, the scrupulous reporting and editing that went into The 13th Step over more than two years demonstrates how journalists can earn trust while serving the public interest.”

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