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The 2014 MDDC Awards

I entered a few of my stories at the Frederick News-Post into the Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association’s 2014 editorial contest. Here are my winning entries:

Division B (dailies from 20,000 to 75,000), Investigative Reporting

First place: Fort Detrick’s $10 million fire
A welder’s torch may have sparked a fire that caused $10 million in damage at the world’s largest high-security research lab, still under construction at Fort Detrick, according to a report prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Division B, Feature Story: Profile

First place and Best In Show: 300 letters home
The newly-trained pilot was full of nervous excitement, flying his Navy dive bomber at the head of a formation. He peeled off from the group to land on the aircraft carrier below, but he was coming in too slowly.

Division B, Medical/Science Reporting

First place: Scientists: Ebola outbreak larger than estimates
Scientists from Fort Detrick say the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is much larger than official estimates indicate.

Division B, Environmental Reporting

Second place: In Frederick parks, a battle for conservation
Environmental stewards on the front lines of the battle against global warming’s adverse effects have a message for Frederick County: This is a time for action.

My latest series: Biological agents and toxins at Fort Detrick

This month, we published a four-part series I’d been pulling together for the latter half of 2014. It’s about the biological toxins and agents that researchers at Fort Detrick deal with every day, and what happens when human error inevitably interferes.

The series is based on documents generally referred to as “mishap” reports within the agencies, though these mishaps can expose researchers to deadly substances. In some cases, multiple people were potentially exposed to a substance because of one person’s mistake.

None of the federal labs involved were willing to let us take photographs in their buildings for this series, but we’ve been able to put some of the original documents online. You can read the series here:


Continuing coverage: the Ebola virus

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has generated plenty of news for us, despite the fact that we’re half a world away. My stories so far on the intersection of the Ebola virus, the Frederick area and Fort Detrick researchers:

July 31
Detrick scientists: Ebola outbreak larger than official numbers

August 14
USAMRIID researchers plan study for Ebola treatment

On Sept. 28, a physician who had been exposed to the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone was flown to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda via Frederick Municipal Airport.

September 30
Official: No problems in transfer of patient exposed to Ebola

October 1
Local officials had one-day notice before doctor exposed to Ebola flown to Frederick

October 2
Ebola vaccine processed at Frederick plant

October 8
Physician exposed to Ebola released from NIH

October 10
USAMRIID trains soldiers heading to Ebola-stricken Liberia

October 17
Dallas Ebola patient flies to Frederick; ‘resting comfortably’

Inspections, inspections, inspections

As part of our coverage of the Great Frederick Fair, I reported on food vendor inspections from the event last year. The Frederick County Health Department provided over 100 separate inspection reports that detailed food safety violations from neglecting to display a permit to leaving food out in the heat for hours.

A few of the reports are available online, in PDF form.

Great Frederick Fair vendors rack up hundreds of food safety violations
More than 80 percent of the food vendors at last year’s Great Frederick Fair used unsafe food practices, according to inspections by the Frederick County Health Department.

Tackling climate change in national parks

One of my recent features looks at how the environmental stewards in our nation’s parks are dealing with the reality of climate change.

The program mentioned in the story, the National Park Service’s Climate Friendly Parks Program, was inspired by loss:

When Glacier National Park was established in 1910, one of its most famous glaciers, Grinnell, covered more than 500 acres on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. Today it covers barely 200 acres.

Just like the researchers, park rangers and visitors at Glacier have seen that change, those who visit and work in nearby national parks are watching their environment transform.

A battle for conservation
Environmental stewards on the front lines of the battle against global warming’s adverse effects have a message for Frederick County: This is a time for action.



Awards from the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association

A few of the stories I wrote for the Gazette in Montgomery County won awards today! Here were my entries and the commendations they receieved from the MDDC Press Association:

First Place, Continuing Coverage

“Aunt Hattie’s Place”

Aunt Hattie’s Place struggles with prospect of closure
At Aunt Hattie’s Place, a group home in Sandy Spring, the beds are empty. There are no more sneakers tucked under beds or clothes folded into drawers. The house, which once housed eight disadvantaged boys, is empty; with no money, the child care program has been suspended.

Critics fear state push to get children out of group homes
As Maryland works to move a record number of disadvantaged children out of group homes, local advocates say the initiative is going too far.

Founder of Aunt Hattie’s Place losing group home — and her own
A single candle burns in each window of Hattie Washington’s empty Sandy Spring house.
“It says I still have faith … that somebody will save us,” she said.

Second Place, Environmental Reporting

“Forest Glen Annex”

Army finds contaminants, not source, at Forest Glen Annex
Contaminants at the Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring continue to spread from an unknown source, according to new U.S. Army data released Thursday.

Residents reject Army fence for Silver Spring trail
Community members had a strong message for the authorities at the Forest Glen Annex: Don’t fence off our trail.

These Gazette stories competed with other Division D newspapers, non-dailies in Washington, D.C., Delaware and Maryland, for these awards.

My current employer, the Frederick News-Post, also won Newspaper of the Year in its division.

Thanks to MDDC for recognizing me and so many of my colleagues in this year’s awards!

Community reporting in Frederick County

Over the past two months, I’ve written lots of feature stories about people, places and things that are important to the Frederick County community. Some of my favorites:

The fate of post-race beers, traditionally served to Frederick Running Festival participants, may be up to state lawmakers.
The deep forests of the Frederick watershed conceal a secret network of paths seven times as large as the trails marked on official maps.
In the not-so-distant future, one invention will create high-paying jobs, increase farmers’ crop yields, keep high school students on track for college and inspire new businesses.

New job, new focus

As of March 10, I’ve started a new job as the Fort Detrick and environmental beat reporter for the Frederick News-Post, a daily paper in Frederick County, Maryland. My very first byline came in Sunday’s issue, on a story about a fire at Fort Detrick and the Army Corps report that gave us the details. It’s been one of the most popular stories on our website since it first went up Sunday morning.

Fort Detrick’s $10 million fire
Report: Welder may have sparked blaze at premier research lab under construction

The story was also featured on Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Extra Extra blog, which showcases investigative and watchdog reporting from around the country.

I’m also working on putting together a new website for myself, at It’s the online equivalent of a business card right now, but I’m hoping to make my clips more accessible there as well. As soon as I can figure out how to code that.

Reporting on federal law through a local scope

Last week, President Obama signed the infamous five-year farm bill into law. I broke down this federal legislation into three stories about how it would affect local dairy farmers, Maryland politics and food stamp recipients.

Montgomery farmers keep watchful eye on farm bill
Some much-needed aid could come to Montgomery County’s shrinking dairy industry

Montgomery representatives split on farm bill
Rep. Van Hollen and Rep. Delaney vote opposite ways on controversial legislation

Food stamp recipients breathe sigh of relief
Farm bill does not make anticipated cuts to SNAP

Making the list: The Gazette’s most-read stories

Several of the stories I wrote about Gaithersburg last week made it to the Gazette’s top 10 most-read stories list. Here’s what our web audience is reading:

New Kentlands restaurant opens in ‘cursed’ space
Local residents told the new owner the space was “cursed,” he said, but he’s hoping the overhaul will make it a popular spot.

Developers sketch new $50 million arena for Montgomery County
The developer envisions a space where indoor lacrosse championships could take place simultaneously with antique roadshows. A Taylor Swift concert could dominate the space one night, he said, and a Disney show could take center stage the next night.

Real estate developer buys Montgomery Village golf course
Monument Realty will keep the course open, but has long-term plans to transform the 147-acre space. Longtime Montgomery Village golf course owner Jack Doser has decided he will retire.

Gaithersburg city manager reviewing employee contracts
Since each department’s director serves the mayor and council at will, he or she “may be terminated with or without cause” and notice may not be given, according to their contracts.


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