2018 Small Newspaper - Silver

Tony Bartelme’s special report on the growing menace of harmful waterborne algae blooms ranged well beyond the local Charleston area. The blooms, which can spawn toxins as deadly as cyanide, have smothered manatees in Florida, wiped out sea otters in California, killed dogs in Minnesota and made water from South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell taste like dirt. At the time of his reporting, he found there already had been more than 460 blooms in 48 states in 2017. The algae-created toxins may do more than poison fish and dogs. Research suggests there may be higher rates of liver disease and cancer in areas near the blooms, Bartelme reported. He described the work of researchers at the local Hollings Marine Lab who are trying to better understand some of the new toxins that have been associated with the blooms. The “scum sleuths” at the lab prepare and distribute purified liquid toxins to other researchers, mostly for free. Bartelme raised concerns about the future of the Hollings lab, which has been hit by job cuts and funding uncertainty at a time when algae blooms are an urgent issue. The judges praised the enterprise and scope of Bartelme’s reporting for a local news outlet. Dan Vergano, a science reporter with BuzzFeed News, called Bartelme’s piece “a surprisingly delightful dive into the algae blooms menacing waters nationwide.”  Sarah Wild called it “an excellent example of reporting on a critical issue, very relevant to its audience.” Bartelme said issues such as harmful algae blooms “affect so many of our readers but often fly below the public’s radar because they are so complex.” The award, he said, spotlights the need “for this type of investigative and explanatory journalism.”