Harvard School of Public Health honors The New York Times for “Distinguished Journalism in Public Health,” citing series on distracted driving

Boston, MA — The Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication will honor The New York Times for “distinguished journalism in public health” at a luncheon event at the Harvard Club of New York City on Friday, December 4, 2009. The Center’s newly established journalism award cites The Times’ path-breaking series “Driven to Distraction,” which drew widespread public attention to the dangers associated with driving while texting or phoning. HSPH Dean Julio Frenk will present the award to Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of The New York Times.

The December 4 luncheon also will celebrate the “21st Birthday” (i.e., legal drinking age) of the National Designated Driver Campaign to prevent drinking and driving, which was launched by HSPH’s Center for Health Communication in late 1988.

Dean Frenk commented, “The New York Times’ in-depth series on the dangers of distracted driving has catapulted a previously neglected public health issue to a position of prominence on both public and policy agendas. Research has shown that distracted driving is like drunk driving in the danger it represents, and it is the new 21st century challenge to safety on our highways. The Times’ coverage of distracted driving constitutes a compelling example of distinguished journalism in public health.”

The Times’ reporting included the disclosure of previously suppressed research documenting serious hazards associated with the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. The Times’ “Driven to Distraction” series led to enactment of new state laws and promulgation of new federal policies, as well as greatly enhancing the public’s awareness of the problem.

The Times’ reporting team was led by Matt Richtel, a correspondent in San Francisco. It featured unique online features by Chief Producers Gabriel Dance and Tom Jackson, working with Producer Danielle Belopotosky, and photographs by Chang Lee and others, as edited by Picture Editor Merrill Oliver. The series was edited by Deputy Business Editor Adam Bryant and Assistant Managing Editor Glenn Kramon, in consultation with Business Editor Lawrence Ingrassia.

The HSPH Center for Health Communication’s innovative Designated Driver Campaign was created by Jay A. Winsten, HSPH Associate Dean and Frank Stanton Director of the Center, in 1988, and was conducted throughout the early 1990s in partnership with leading TV networks and Hollywood studios. The campaign successfully demonstrated how a new social concept—the “designated driver” —could be rapidly diffused through American society via mass communication, catalyzing a fundamental shift in social norms. The campaign broke new ground when TV writers agreed to depict the use of designated drivers in more than 160 prime-time episodes of programs such as Cheers, L.A. Law, and The Cosby Show. Public opinion polls found that a majority of Americans embraced the designated driver concept, contributing to a sharp decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

Jay A. Winsten commented, “In celebrating the “21st Birthday” of the Designated Driver Campaign, we are cognizant of the unfinished work in traffic safety, including the growing problem of distracted driving which The New York Times almost single-handedly brought to the forefront. In launching the Center’s new award for distinguished journalism in public health, and presenting the inaugural award to The New York Times, we hope to encourage other news organizations to commit the necessary resources to tackle other pressing issues in public health.”

Additional information on the Designated Driver campaign is available at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/chc/harvard-alcohol-project/.

To view the “Driven to Distraction” series on NYTimes.com, go to http://www.nytimes.com/driven.