Jon Cohen awarded 2012 Victor Cohn medical science reporting prize

Jon Cohen, a contributing correspondent for Science magazine, was presented the 2012 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting at the annual awards ceremony held Saturday, October 27 in conjunction with ScienceWriters2012, a joint meeting of CASW and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).

The award is made in recognition of Cohen’s exemplary coverage of a broad range of biomedical topics, but most notably his distinguished and persistent chronicling of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was presented along with the NASW Science in Society Journalism Awards at Raleigh’s Nature Science Center. (Cohen is shown here with three winners of the NASW awards. Left to right: Cohen, Seth Mnookin, Chris Hamby and Emilene Ostlind.)

The Victor Cohn prize, for a body of work published or broadcast within the last five years, is administered by CASW, a not-for-profit organization of journalists and scientists committed to improving the quality of science news and information reaching the public.

The Cohn Prize judges lauded Cohen for his “exceptional resourcefulness, his unrelenting enterprise, his brilliant marshaling of facts and his superb story-telling skills,” in articles dealing with such diverse issues as chronic fatigue syndrome, the H5N1 avian influenza pandemic, primate medical research, vaccines and immunology, emerging infectious diseases and biodefense.

They were particularly impressed by the in-depth packages of stories Cohen published in Science in advance of the major international biennial HIV/AIDS meetings. Each set covered a different corner of the globe.  In the most recent package, “The Many States of HIV in America,” in the July 12, 2012 issue, Cohen described, in a series of illuminating vignettes, efforts underway to better understand and stem the spread of HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, in 10 cities across the United States.  Earlier packages examined the daunting challenges faced in Eastern Europe, in Latin America and the Caribbean and, before that, in Asia and Africa.

The prize committee unanimously and readily agreed with the assessment rendered by Colin Norman, news editor of Science, who, in his nominating letter, wrote: “Jon’s reporting on the AIDS epidemic consistently breaks new ground….Each package highlights Jon’s great strengths as a reporter: He gets into the field and talks to everybody, from top researchers and government officials to sex workers, injecting drug users, non-governmental groups, men who have sex with men, patients, law enforcement and advocates. He is meticulous in his reporting, and his writing is vivid and compelling.”

Cohen began writing for Science in 1990, first as a staff writer and since 1998 as a contributing correspondent. His freelance work also has appeared in many popular outlets including the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Smithsonian and Discover. Author of three books, Cohen earned his B.A. from the University of California, San Diego. From 1986 until he joined Science, he was senior editor at the City Paper in Washington, DC. Cohen lives in Cardiff-by-the Sea, CA, with his wife, TV producer Shannon Bradley, and their three children.

This year’s entries were judged by CASW president Cristine Russell, a freelance writer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (shown presenting the award to Cohen); Joann Rogers, a freelance writer and faculty scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics; and Ben Patrusky, CASW’s executive director.

This year marks the 13th presentation of the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. The inaugural award in 2000 was shared by Laurie Garrett of Newsday and Lawrence K. Altman of The New York Times. Subsequent recipients, in addition to Cohen, were Jon Palfreman, a public television documentarian; Shannon Brownlee, a noted magazine writer and book author; Michelle Trudeau of NPR; Rick Weiss of the Washington Post; Jerome Groopman of The New Yorker; Geeta Anand of The Wall Street Journal; Joe Palca of NPR; Denise Grady of The New York Times; Marilynn Marchionne of the Associated Press; and Ron Winslow of The Wall Street Journal.

The award honors the late Washington Post medical writer and health columnist Victor Cohn, who distinguished himself by the clarity and effectiveness of his reporting during a 50-year career. He was a co-founder in 1959 of CASW.