The surprise 2017 Pulitzer winner

April 10, 2017
Image by Pete Vernon

Monday marked the final time Mike Pride took to a lectern in the Columbia Journalism School’s Pulitzer Hall and announced the fabled prizes of the same name. But this ceremony—celebrating the 101st Pulitzers—held special significance for a man who spent three decades working at the 20,000-circulation Concord Monitor. “When I was rehearsing this,” Pride said later, “I teared up when I got to the entry for The Storm Lake Times.”

The twice-weekly, family-owned newspaper from a tiny town in northwest Iowa took home the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing on Monday, capping off a strong showing by the very local and regional newspapers most threatened by economic headwinds. The East Bay Times was given the nod for Breaking News Reporting for its coverage of a deadly warehouse party in Oakland, while the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s series on prescription opioids flowing into West Virginia earned Investigative Reporting honors.

The Storm Lake Times’ award came for editorials by its editor, Art Cullen, that challenged agricultural interest groups over water pollution. Speaking to reporters after Monday’s ceremony, Pride said the paper showcased just how crucial local voices remain.

“It shows the power of one journalist—or a smaller group of journalists—if they keep their eyes on the prize and don’t get too downhearted about what’s happening, the turmoil in journalism, but instead focus on what the work at hand is.”

Other takeaways:

A big day for Trump’s favorite targets

David Fahrenthold adds another notch to his belt
Was his Pulitzer for National Reporting ever in doubt?


International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ends a tumultuous year on a high note
Just months after the “Panama Papers” expose shocked the world in April 2016, the small investigative outfit that coordinated the effort was short on cash. ICIJ had to part ways with three contract journalists, and soon after it began spinning off from its parent organization of two decades, the Center for Public Integrity.

“It’s definitely been an incredible year of ups and downs,” ICIJ Senior Editor Michael Hudson said by phone Monday, “sometimes at the same time.”

The latest upswing came in the form of a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting shared with publishing partners at the Miami Herald and McClatchy. ICIJ connected hundreds of journalists across six continents to carry out the international leak investigation, which exposed how global elites sheltered wealth through offshore tax havens, among other revelations.

“Some stories are too big, too global, too complex for a single news outlet to tackle,” Hudson said. “When journalists pool their resources and work together, it’s much harder for bad guys to keep their transgressions secret. It’s takes two things that journalists aren’t really known for: teamwork and patience.”

Recently bolstered by an Omidyar Network grant of $4.5 million, the newly independent ICIJ has staffed up past its Panama Papers-era size. Hudson, for one, is optimistic.

“These days, a lot of us in journalism feel like we’re part of this embattled and shrinking tribe,” Hudson says. “We’ve endured, we’ve seen layoffs, we’ve seen newspapers going under, and then President Trump comes into office saying we’re the enemy of the people. But we’re not dead yet. And the Panama Papers shows that to people all over the world.”

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The full list of 2017 winners

Public Service:

The New York Daily News and ProPublica: “For uncovering, primarily through the work of reporter Sarah Ryley, widespread abuse of eviction rules by the police to oust hundreds of people, most of them poor minorities.”

Finalists – Chicago Tribune; Houston Chronicle

Breaking News Reporting:

East Bay Times: “For relentless coverage of the “Ghost Ship” fire, which killed 36 people at a warehouse party, and for reporting after the tragedy that exposed the city’s failure to take actions that might have prevented it.”

 Finalists – The Dallas Morning News Staff; The Orlando Sentinel Staff

Investigative Reporting:

Eric Eyre, Charleston Gazette Mail: “For courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.”

Finalists – Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan of Chicago Tribune; Steve Reilly of USA Today Network, Tyson’s Corner, Virginia

Local Reporting:

Salt Lake Tribune Staff: “For a string of vivid reports revealing the perverse, punitive and cruel treatment given to sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University, one of Utah’s most powerful institutions.”

Finalists – Jenna Russell, Maria Cramer, Michael Rezendes, Todd Wallack and Scott Helman of The Boston Globe; Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff of The New York Times

National Reporting:

David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post: “For persistent reporting that created a model for transparent journalism in political campaign coverage while casting doubt on Donald Trump’s assertions of generosity toward charities.”

 Finalists – Renee Dudley, Steve Stecklow, Alexandra Harney and other members of the Reuters Staff; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff

International Reporting:

The New York Times: “For agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad, revealing techniques that included assassination, online harassment and the planting of incriminating evidence on opponents.” 

Finalists – Chris Hamby of BuzzFeed News, New York; International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy and the Miami Herald; The Wall Street Journal Staff

Feature Writing:

C.J. Chivers, The New York Times: “For showing, through an artful accumulation of fact and detail, that a Marine’s postwar descent into violence reflected neither the actions of a simple criminal nor a stereotypical case of PTSD.”

Finalists – Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal; Eli Saslow of The Washington Post

Explanatory Reporting:

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy and the Miami Herald: “For the Panama Papers, a series of stories using a collaboration of more than 300 reporters on six continents to expose the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens. (Moved by the Board from the International Reporting category, where it was entered.)”

Finalists – Joan Garrett McClane and Joy Lukachick Smith of Chattanooga Times Free Press; Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, Lauren Kirchner and Terry Parris Jr. of ProPublica; Staff of National Geographic, Washington, D.C.


Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal: “For rising to the moment with beautifully rendered columns that connected readers to the shared virtues of Americans during one of the nation’s most divisive political campaigns.”

Finalists – Dahleen Glanton of Chicago Tribune; Trudy Rubin of Philadelphia Media Network


Hilton Als of The New Yorker: “For bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality and race.”

 Finalists – Laura Reiley of Tampa Bay Times; Ty Burr of The Boston Globe

Editorial Writing:

Art Cullen of The Storm Lake Times: “For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

 Finalists – Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post; Joe Holley of Houston Chronicle

Editorial Cartooning:

Jim Morin of the Miami Herald: “For editorial cartoons that delivered sharp perspectives through flawless artistry, biting prose and crisp wit.”

Finalists – Jen Sorensen, freelance cartoonist; Steve Sack of Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Breaking News Photography:

Daniel Berehulak, freelance photographer: “For powerful storytelling through images published in The New York Times showing the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about by a government assault on drug dealers and users. (Moved into this category from Feature Photography by the nominating jury.)”

Finalists – Jonathan Bachman, freelance photographer; Photography Staff of the Associated Press

Feature Photography:

Jason Wambsgans of Chicago Tribune: “For a superb portrayal of a 10-year-old boy and his mother striving to put the boy’s life back together after he survived a shooting in Chicago.”

Finalists – Jake May of The Flint Journal, Flint, Michigan; Katie Falkenberg of Los Angeles Times

Correction: An earlier version of this story misdescribed the topic of The Storm Lake Times’ editorials. 

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.