Pulitzer Prizes reflect a violent year for journalists

Dana Canedy presents the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes. Photo: Andrew McCormick

The first piece of journalism that Dana Canedy, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, mentioned during Monday afternoon’s announcement of the 2019 prizes was one that did not win: a series of obituaries, by the staff of The Eagle Eye student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “These budding journalists remind us of the media’s unwavering commitment to bearing witness, even in the most wrenching of circumstances,” said Canedy, speaking from a podium in a crowded lecture hall at Columbia University that included dozens of student journalists.

Next, Canedy named the five journalists who lost their lives in last June’s shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; she spoke also of Jamal Khashoggi, of The Washington Post, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

It was, unfortunately, the theme of Canedy’s remarks and of the 103rd iteration of the prizes this year: the rising tide of violence in the country, which journalists have had to cover and of which they have become targets themselves.

The award for public service, the Pulitzer’s top honor, went to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, for its coverage of failures by police and school officials after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. The next award, for breaking news, went to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its coverage in the wake of a shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Many of the seats in the lecture hall not filled by students were filled by representatives of press advocacy groups. A special award to the Capital Gazette, “for demonstrating unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief,” in the words of the citation, made for a total of three Pulitzers on the subject of mass shootings.

Related: The pressures of active-shooter coverage on school journalists

The prizes also addressed threats to journalists elsewhere. In an unusual move, two prizes were awarded for international reporting, including one to the staff of Reuters, with special mention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters journalists who were imprisoned last year for their coverage of government violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

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Though Canedy said the first goal of the Pulitzers is to acknowledge great work, she said in a question and answer session following the announcements that she hoped this year’s prizes would also draw attention to violence and threats to journalists. “I think what we just did made a huge statement,” she said.

The president’s influence hangs over any conversation about threats to journalists and press freedom, but for a year full of Trump-related bombshells, his name was hardly spoken during Monday’s event. Still, two blockbuster works on Trump and his inner circle nabbed prizes. First, The New York Times’s David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner were recognized in the explanatory reporting category for their 10,000-word epic on the dubious tax practices employed by Trump over decades and the riches he inherited from his father. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, received the national reporting honor for uncovering hush money payments by Trump and his associates to silence women amid the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

THE FULL LIST OF 2019 WINNERS:

 

Public Service:

South Florida Sun Sentinel: For exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Finalists: ProPublica and The Washington Post

 

Breaking News Reporting:

Staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: For immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.

Finalists: Staff of the Chico Enterprise-Record, in collaboration with the Bay Area News Group; and Staff of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

 

Investigative Reporting:

Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times: For consequential reporting on a University of Southern California gynecologist accused of violating hundreds of young women for more than a quarter-century.

Finalists: David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner of The New York Times; and Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times

 

Explanatory Reporting:

David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner of The New York Times: For an exhaustive 18-month investigation of President Donald Trump’s finances that debunked his claims of self-made wealth and revealed a business empire riddled with tax dodges. (Moved by the Board from the Investigative Reporting category, where it was also entered.)

Finalists: Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Emeryville, Calif., in collaboration with Associated Press, PRX and the PBS NewsHour; Kyra Gurney, Nicholas Nehamas, Jay Weaver, and Jim Wyss of the Miami Herald; and Staff of The Washington Post

 

Local Reporting:

Staff of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.: For a damning portrayal of the state’s discriminatory conviction system, including a Jim Crow-era law, that enabled Louisiana courts to send defendants to jail without jury consensus on the accused’s guilt.

Finalists: Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman, Dylan Purcell and Jessica Griffin of The Philadelphia Inquirer; and Brandon Stahl, Jennifer Bjorhus, MaryJo Webster, and Renée Jones Schneider of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minn.

 

National Reporting:

Staff of The Wall Street Journal: For uncovering President Trump’s secret payoffs to two women during his campaign who claimed to have had affairs with him, and the web of supporters who facilitated the transactions, triggering criminal inquiries and calls for impeachment.

Finalists: Staff of Associated Press; and Staff of The New York Times, with contributions from Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian/The Observer of London

 

International Reporting:

Maggie Michael, Maad al-Zikry and Nariman El-Mofty of Associated Press: For a revelatory yearlong series detailing the atrocities of the war in Yemen, including theft of food aid, deployment of child soldiers and torture of prisoners.

And Staff of Reuters, with notable contributions from Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo: For expertly exposing the military units and Buddhist villagers responsible for the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, courageous coverage that landed its reporters in prison.

Finalists: Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times

 

Feature Writing:

Hannah Dreier of ProPublica: For a series of powerful, intimate narratives that followed Salvadoran immigrants on New York’s Long Island whose lives were shattered by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.

Finalists: Deanna Pan and Jennifer Berry Hawes of The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.; and Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post

 

Commentary:

Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: For bold columns that exposed the malfeasance and injustice of forcing poor rural Missourians charged with misdemeanor crimes to pay unaffordable fines or be sent to jail.

Finalists: Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic; and Melinda Henneberger of The Kansas City Star

 

Criticism:

Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post: For trenchant and searching reviews and essays that joined warm emotion and careful analysis in examining a broad range of books addressing government and the American experience.

Finalists: Jill Lepore of The New Yorker; and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times

 

Editorial Writing:

Brent Staples of The New York Times: For editorials written with extraordinary moral clarity that charted the racial fault lines in the United States at a polarizing moment in the nation’s history.

Finalists: Editorial Staff of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.; and the Editorial Staff of the Capital Gazette, Annapolis, Md.

 

Editorial Cartooning:

Darrin Bell, freelancer: For beautiful and daring editorial cartoons that took on issues affecting disenfranchised communities, calling out lies, hypocrisy and fraud in the political turmoil surrounding the Trump administration.

Finalists: Ken Fisher, drawing as Ruben Bolling, freelancer; and Rob Rogers, freelancer

 

Breaking News Photography:

Photography Staff of Reuters: For a vivid and startling visual narrative of the urgency, desperation and sadness of migrants as they journeyed to the U.S. from Central and South America.

Finalists: Noah Berger, John Locher and Ringo H. W. Chiu of Associated Press; and Photography Staff of Associated Press

 

Feature Photography:

Lorenzo Tugnoli of The Washington Post: For brilliant photo storytelling of the tragic famine in Yemen, shown through images in which beauty and composure are intertwined with devastation. (Moved by the jury from Breaking News Photography, where it was originally entered.)

Finalists: Craig F. Walker of The Boston Globe; and Maggie Steber and Lynn Johnson of National Geographic

 

ICYMI: How the press emerges from the coup in Sudan

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Andrew McCormick is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewMcCormck.