Honoring the Best Cancer Journalism

June L. Biedler, PhD, was recognized internationally for her pioneering research on multidrug resistance—the mechanism by which cancer cells develop resistance to different chemotherapy drugs. Dr. Biedler was also known for her groundbreaking work on neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that most commonly occurs in and around the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys. 

Dr. Biedler understood the complexities of science and collaborated with some of the most brilliant researchers in the world, but she also recognized the importance of helping nonscientists understand research. As she often told the young investigators she mentored, it doesn’t matter how good your research is if you can’t explain what you are doing and why it is important in a way that a nonscientist can grasp it. 

A longtime AACR member, Dr. Biedler died in 2012 at the age of 86. Two years later, her estate presented the AACR with the largest legacy gift it had received to date. 

“June was so supportive of the AACR, and she wanted to let the public know about the research that was taking place and to call attention to what was going on to cure cancer,” said Gloria W. Heath, her lifelong friend. “She was interested in communication and in people helping one another, and she wanted to help the AACR stimulate public interest in the progress being made in cancer research.”

To honor Dr. Biedler and to recognize the important role the media play in educating the public about cancer and cancer research, the AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism was established and first awarded at the AACR Annual Meeting in April 2016. The Biedler Prize recognizes exceptional cancer coverage in newspapers, magazines, online/multimedia, television, and radio. Winners receive a cash prize and a plaque, and they are acknowledged during the opening ceremony of the Annual Meeting.

Erin Schumaker, a senior healthy living editor at HuffPost in New York City, won the 2017 online/multimedia award with photographer Damon Dahlen for an article that sheds light on the long-term side effects many childhood cancer survivors experience. “With childhood cancer, a cure is often presented as being the finish line,” said Schumaker, “but there is a whole story that takes place after that.” Schumaker was honored to receive a Biedler Prize, noting that it “felt like a validation that original journalism and photography are worth the extra resources we put into them.”

A series on new frontiers in cancer treatment by David Wahlberg, the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, received the 2017 small newspaper award. Wahlberg said writing the series gave him a chance to look in-depth at cancer research and care taking place at Madison’s comprehensive cancer center and to report on the latest developments in immunotherapy and targeted therapy.

“As a reporter at a midsized city in the Midwest like Madison, it means a lot to get national recognition for me and for the paper,” said Wahlberg. “It also encourages other reporters in other places like this to consider ways they can do in-depth stories about cancer research.”