The Global Reporting Centre’s most recent documentary, America’s Medical Supply Crisis, has been recognized with the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, the top investigative journalism prize in North America.

This joint project with the PBS series FRONTLINE and the Associated Press grew out of a longterm GRC collaboration between media organizations and scholars, to look at the hidden costs of supply chains. Just as the pandemic was starting in the U.S., the team looked into the causes and impacts of the collapse of global medical supply chains — tracing products like masks, ventilators and syringes. They discovered a widespread trade in counterfeit N95 masks, a strategic national stockpile that was left depleted after the swine flu pandemic, and failed ventilator contracts that left the country unprepared.

“During some of the darkest days of the pandemic, this investigative team revealed the fragility of our medical supply chain, shining light on an important issue that has had dire consequences,” FRONTLINE’s executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Associated Press and the Global Reporting Centre for their partnership in telling this story, and we share this honor with them.”

Associated Press investigative team members Juliet Linderman and Martha Mendoza interviewed nurses, policymakers and medical supply procurement officials, to understand the complexities of the system and why it failed, leaving thousands of frontline healthcare workers vulnerable. “The devastating and tragic pandemic was exacerbated by deadly shortages of basic medical supplies. We were very grateful to be part of a collaborative team holding those in power accountable for failing to adequately respond to this crisis,” said Linderman and Mendoza, who are also members of the GRC supply chain team. “We are honored and humbled by this IRE recognition, which goes to a broad team of colleagues.”

The director of the documentary, Peter Klein, runs the supply chain research team, and recruited his colleague Dr. Jane Lister, as well as students and scholars across the globe, who contributed valuable research. “This project would not have been possible without the extensive team of knowledge we pulled together, very quickly, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Klein. “We learned on-the-fly how to make a film under lockdown, and everyone rose to the challenge.”

The documentary was recognized in the Video (Division 1) category, the largest circulation category for network or syndicated TV. The IRE judges praised the project for “expos[ing] the shocking vulnerability we all face based on the country’s truly flawed medical supply system and inadequate preparation for large public health crises. The journalists exposed and tracked down the myriad people trying to sound the alarm and used data to underscore their point. And their work met the moment when the stakes could not be higher as the world faces an unprecedented pandemic.”

The hour-long film is accompanied by a multimedia project that looks at four key medical supplies, as well as teaching modules developed by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Additional project funding came from Humanity United and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.