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News and Awards

The Marshall Project Wins the Dart Award for “The Mercy Workers”

Our feature on mitigation specialists who help save people from the death penalty was recognized for making “significant contributions to public understanding of trauma-related issues.”

The Marshall Project has won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma with “The Mercy Workers,” a feature investigation by staff writer Maurice Chammah published in March 2023. The story, which also won a 2023 Online Journalism Award in the Feature category (and was a finalist for the Taylor Award for Fairness in Journalism) offers a rare look at the little-known profession of “mitigation specialists,” who attempt to save prisoners from the death penalty. By documenting their clients’ often trauma-filled life stories, while also pointing out broad policy failures, mitigation specialists sometimes succeed in persuading juries –– and even prosecutors –– to choose less severe sentences. The story was co-published by The Guardian.

The award was shared with The Boston Globe series “Nightmare in Mission Hill: The Untold Story of the Charles and Carol Stuart Shooting.” Honorable Mentions went to The New Yorker and The New York Times.

In today’s announcement, the Dart Awards judging panel described “The Mercy Workers” as a “powerful, nuanced and sensitive exploration of an aspect of the criminal justice system that is often overlooked.” They praised Maurice Chammah for “humanizing James Bernard Belcher without exonerating him,” “demanding that readers reach their own conclusion about this man's life, his mercy worker and the larger system.” They also described the writing as “well-paced and meditative,” and said, “given all of the layers of trauma, the fact that the piece moves so elegantly without toppling over with grief is a miracle.” A full statement is available on the Dart Center’s website.

The Dart Awards, now in their 30th year, recognize outstanding reporting in all media that portrays traumatic events and their aftermath with accuracy, insight and sensitivity while illuminating the effects of violence.

“We’re honored by The Dart Center’s recognition, and delighted at the praise for Maurice’s important and sensitive work,” said Susan Chira, editor-in-chief at The Marshall Project.

By tradition, the Dart Award is a team prize, recognizing that in-depth coverage of trauma requires an exceptional commitment by the entire news organization. Besides Chammah, the judges recognized senior editor Akiba Solomon, illustrator Jackie Roche, multimedia and storytelling editors Celina Fang, Raghuram Vadarevu and Meredith Rizzo, photographers Agnes Lopez and Octavio Jones, collage artist Melanie Garcia, developer Katie Park, production coordinator Mara Corbett, copy editor Ghazala Irshad, and videographer Taylor Vorburger.

The Dart Awards, established in 1994, are administered by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia Journalism School. It considers entries from across the media spectrum, including newspaper, radio, online, multimedia, film and video.