The O'Brien Fellowship Award for Impact in Public Service Journalism

The O'Brien Fellowship sponsors an annual award through the News Leaders Assocation, formerly known as ASNE, the American Society of News Editors.

The O’Brien Fellowship Award for Impact in Public Service Journalism recognizes public service reporting that helps solve community or societal issues, leading to changes in laws, regulations or other demonstrated results. Stories from a two-year period can be entered. The cash prize is $2,500. Winners visit Marquette to present their work.

For more information on entry rules, see the NLA awards page.

Award Winners


The Washington Post Team for “The Opioid Files” 

Sari Horwitz      Scott Higham      Steven Rich






The 2020 award went to the Washington Post’s reporting team composed of Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham, and Steven Rich (pictured left to right). From 2016 to late 2019, this team investigated the deadly opioid epidemic that shattered the nation.

News Leaders Association judges called the work “an authoritative, groundbreaking series” in which “The Washington Post disclosed what drove the devastating opioid crisis that ravaged parts of America.” 

The judges also noted that “After a year-long court battle, The Post obtained a government database that Drug Enforcement Administration and drug industry officials had long fought to keep private. The records, and meticulous reporting, showed the full scope of the opioid epidemic and which manufacturers benefited.”


The South Florida Sun Sentinel Team for “Parkland” Series

The 2019 award went to The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s reporting team that investigated the root causes of the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

ASNE judges wrote that the newspaper’s staff “faced an obstructing and recalcitrant school district, sheriff office, even a court system, which sought to intimidate, block and obfuscate reporters from uncovering the roots of the tragedy. Sun Sentinel staffers, using dogged reporting, public records, legal action, video evidence, uncovered a systematic failure in responsibility before, during and after the murders."


Indianapolis Star Team for 2018 "Out of Balance" Series 


Award picture

The 2018 award went to the Indianapolis Star’s reporting team that investigated the sexual abuse scandal in USA gymnastics.

The ensuing articles were compiled into “Out of Balance,” a series by reporters Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans. The reporters began investigating the allegations of the sexual abuse scandal in March 2016 after learning of a lawsuit filed against Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics and continued their search for two years.

ASNE judges wrote that the project “built a framework, story by story, that exposed a pattern of abuse, the passing around of abusers, the silencing of accusers and a cover-up. When the story finally blew up over the Larry Nassar scandal, it seemed sudden to those not paying attention, but much credit goes to this series and the news organization that supported and published it for the far-reaching impact the story ultimately had.”


Marina Walker GuevaraMarina Walker Guevara and 2017 Panama Papers Reporting Team

The 2017 award went to the Panama Papers reporting team. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners, spent a year sifting through 11.5 million leaked files to expose the offshore holdings of world political leaders, links to global scandals, and details of the hidden financial dealings of fraudsters, drug traffickers, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and more, according to the ICIJMarina Walker Guevara explained the project in a Sept. 19, 2017 speech at Marquette.