How they got the story: Steve Buist on The Spec’s BORN: A Code Red Project

For the second year in a row, the Hamilton Spectator used statistics to show the relationship between income and health, specifically to pregnancy and births in Ontario this time. In this teaser for the upcoming issue of CAJ's Media magazine, Steve Buist tells how he and Teri Pecoskie reported their groundbreaking series.  The Hamilton Spectator's Steve Buist…

For the second year in a row, the Hamilton Spectator used statistics to show the relationship between income and health, specifically to pregnancy and births in Ontario this time. In this teaser for the upcoming issue of CAJ's Media magazineSteve Buist tells how he and Teri Pecoskie reported their groundbreaking series. 

The Hamilton Spectator's Steve Buist won the Canadian Association of Journalists 2012 overall prize for the second year in a row with his groundbreaking series that drew links between income level and health. Using social science and data journalism techniques and good old-fashioned shoe leather, Steve and his team told stories that forced the city of Hamilton to take action. So it is only fitting that I use Steve's write-up to give you of a taste of what you'll be getting in the next edition of Media, which will be posted by the end of the week.


CAJ Award Winner: Open Newspaper Category and the Don McGillivray Award for the overall winner

Steve Buist, Teri Pecoskie

Born: A Code Red project

Hamilton Spectator


By Steve Buist

BORN: A Code Red Project examined reams of public data on pregnancy and births and turned them into compelling articles, pictures and online content on just how well – or not – mothers and their children are faring across Ontario.

They are the smallest and most vulnerable members of our communities and yet every baby born in Ontario carries a hefty unspoken promise – the promise of hope, potential and opportunity for the future.

But for some of these babies – a disturbing number, in fact – the deck has already been stacked against them from the moment of conception.

In a country that believes equal access to health care is one of its fundamental pillars, the sad reality is that there is nothing equal about the range of health and social outcomes for mothers and babies across Ontario.

Want proof? Look no further than the results uncovered in the Hamilton Spectator’s groundbreaking series titled BORN: A Code Red Project.

BORN expands on the findings of the Spectator’s landmark Code Red series, published in 2010, and broadens the focus to a provincial level.

Code Red helped change the course of Hamilton by highlighting the important connections that exist between poverty and poor health, right down to the level of the city’s neighbourhoods

Now, the Spectator’s BORN project hopes to help change outcomes for mothers and babies across the entire province of Ontario.

The BORN project shows clearly and unmistakably that the same connections between poverty and poor outcomes exist across Ontario when it comes to certain factors related to the health of mothers and babies.

The series started with an application made to Better Outcomes Registry & Network Ontario for access to all Ontario birth outcomes and maternal health data for the four fiscal years spanning 2006-07 to 2009-10. BORN Ontario maintains newborn and maternal information for each birth in Ontario through the Niday Perinatal Database.

Data for approximately 535,000 births over the four-year period for the entire province were turned over to Neil Johnston, a faculty member in McMaster University’s Department of Medicine, who is also associated with the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health and St. Joseph’s Healthcare. He also runs the Ontario Physician Human Resources Data Centre for the province’s health ministry.


Johnston also collaborated on The Spectator’s Code Red series. He assisted on a pro bono basis and maintained exclusive control of the raw data.

Patrick DeLuca, another Code Red collaborator, once again provided statistical analysis and mapping expertise for the new project. DeLuca is a member of McMaster’s Centre for Spatial Analysis and he, too, agreed to assist on a pro bono basis.

The BORN data was assembled into spreadsheets for analysis at two levels.

The data was aggregated up to the level of municipalities and small communities, including native reserves. There are 420 municipalities and communities represented in the data.

The information was also broken down to the level of neighbourhoods — or census tracts, as defined by Statistics Canada — for each of Ontario’s 19 census metropolitan areas.

There are more than 2,100 neighbourhoods represented across the province and they account for more than 80 per cent of all Ontario births.

Birth and maternal health outcomes could then be compared to StatsCan social and economic data at both the municipal and neighbourhood levels.

Our exclusive analysis shows that neighbourhoods and communities with low income and poor education suffer devastating effects when it comes to rates of teen mothers, low birth weight babies and early prenatal care.

The result is a high-quality, 22-page series that raised serious questions about how little progress has been made in Ontario for more than a decade when it comes to improving certain birth and maternal health markers.

BORN also shows that the outcomes are appalling on Ontario’s native reserves, particularly those isolated in the far north. To tell those stories, we travelled to the remote northern reserves of Big Trout Lake and Grassy Narrows, as well as the city of Thunder Bay.

The BORN series combines sharp investigative reporting with keen analysis tied together with the touching narratives of people from across the province. The series also includes an impressive array of original innovative graphics produced by Spectator graphics designer Dean Tweed, as well as six, high-quality videos and two compelling slideshow presentations.

To broaden BORN’s scope, the series was also published by dozens of other members of the Metroland newspapers across Ontario as a three-part special project. The Spectator provided specially-tailored statistics to each member newspaper so they could provide readers with stories specific to their communities.

BORN and the original Code Red project, are, arguably, the most important projects ever produced by the Spectator to advance the cause of social justice in Hamilton, and now, across Ontario.


Steve Buist has established himself as one of Canada’s top investigative journalists. In March 2011, he was named the winner of the inaugural 2011 Canadian Hillman Prize for the Spectator’s original Code Red series. Buist has won three National Newspaper Awards and he’s also been nominated another four times for NNAs. This year marked the third time he has been named the country’s Investigative Journalist of the Year by the Canadian Association of Journalists, and on three occasions he has been named Ontario’s Journalist of the Year.

Teri Pecoskie is a reporter and a videographer with a professional background in biomedical and theoretical ethics. Last year, she was a finalist in the novice reporting category at the Ontario Newspaper Awards.

Buist and Pecoskie’s BORN series has also won awards handed out this year by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and a joint award handed out by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health.


This article will appear in the upcoming issue of Media magazine, the CAJ's publication that explores issues in Canadian journalism. You can find it in full, when its released, here