The Billings Gazette’s coverage of suicide in Montana has taken first-place honors in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, sponsored by the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Gazette health reporter Cindy Uken took the top feature honors for her series of articles on suicide in Montana. Her reporting tackled the epidemic of suicide in the state and was key to getting state and federal leaders to pay greater attention to the issue in Montana.

Among the most significant findings was that one of the highest rate of suicides in the state was among the elderly, not teenagers, even though anecdotal evidence pointed to the suicide rate being highest among teens.

“Uken’s series on Montana’s sky-high suicide rates was a journalistic tour de force — comprehensive, honest and compassionate. Digging into the appalling statistics, she showed how the elderly, not teens, were most likely to kill themselves. Again and again, Uken succeeded in getting survivors and their relatives to tell their stories — no easy feat given the subject matter,” the judges said.

“This series continues to be recognized for approaching what has normally been a taboo,” said Gazette Publisher Mike Gulledge. “We are so proud of Cindy and The Gazette staff’s hard work, but we’re even more pleased that her reporting has helped create a substantial change for the better in Montana.”

Uken has been featured on several panels and seminars for her reporting on suicide, explaining how to effectively report on this sensitive, yet critical, topic.

The contest is in its 10th year and had 12 categories. Uken’s entry took the feature first-place honor. More than 475 entries were received for the contest, setting a record, the AHCJ reported. Contest entries were screened and judged by more than 50 working journalists and journalism professors.

Uken will receive the award at a March 29 conference in Denver. During the annual meeting of the ACHJ, she also will be included on a conference panel of other reporters speaking about their work.

AHCJ is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues, with more than 1,500 members worldwide. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. Its offices are based at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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