The Collegian
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Chris Hamby to lecture on Breathless and Burdened

Pulitzer Prize recipient Chris Hamby, RC '08, will speak about his award-winning series, Breathless and Burdened, at a lecture on Monday, March 23rd.

Breathless and Burdened, which Hamby wrote while working at the Center for Public Integrity, reports on how the coal industry’s lawyers and doctors helped to deny benefits to miners suffering from black-lung disease.

His interest in telling the stories of coal miners suffering from “a resurgence of the worst form of [black-lung disease] in Central Appalachia” came after reading the autopsy reports of a West Virginia mine explosion in 2010, he said.

According to Hamby, the results showed that he and the public had the misconception that black lung disease was a dwindling issue. His work ultimately clarified the prominence and danger of the disease, pressuring state governments to enact remedial legislative efforts, according to the Pulitzer website.

A journalism major at Richmond, Hamby said the university helped prepare him for his work in investigative reporting.

“I felt completely on par with other reporters when I first entered a newsroom environment,” he said.

“Everything at Richmond, from the classes, to working at The Collegian, to taking advantage of research opportunities and internships were all useful experiences,” Hamby said. In particular, Hamby said the side projects he worked on while at Richmond were especially enriching.

In addition to discussing his investigative work and time at Richmond, Hamby will discuss where he thinks the future of investigative reporting will go. “There’s a lot of pessimism, because these are tumultuous times in [the] industry,” he said. However, he remains hopeful because “positive models are emerging.”

While the heyday of investigative journalism has likely passed with the likes of Riis and Sinclair or Woodward and Bernstein, Hamby said that “growth of non-profit, nonpartisan organizations” such as ProPublica and InvestigateWest were big parts of his increasing optimism for the future of muckraking journalism.

Although Hamby received the Pulitzer while working for the Center for Public Integrity, another example of a growing non-profit, he recently joined the investigative journalism team put together by Buzzfeed. “The media is evolving to take better advantage of what the web can do for them,” Hamby said.

While the organization is known primarily for entertainment news and viral content, Hamby said he was not concerned about the public’s ability to separate the organization’s entertainment section from news. He said he believed that the organization can leverage its media popularity to reach greater audiences.

“We have more than a dozen people on our investigative team,” he said, ”and we’re becoming recognized for having a hard news section, despite having started only two years ago.”

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Buzzfeed’s investigative team is headed by Mark Schoofs, another Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote for the Wall Street Journal and ProPublica. The team is filled with other similarly high-profile writers from organizations such as the New York Times and the Associated Press.

To see more of Hamby’s work, follow this link to his Buzzfeed page. His most recent projects include an exposé regarding the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s illegal impersonation and endangerment of a woman on Facebook.

Hamby’s lecture will begin at 7 p.m. at the Ukrop Auditorium at the Robins School of Business.

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