Business of News

The Pulitzers get a new look, but old mainstays still dominate

April 16, 2018
Pulitzer Prizes Administrator Dana Canedy. (Photo: Kelsey Ables)

Going into today’s Pulitzers announcement, reporting on Harvey Weinstein looked like a shoo-in for a prize. Investigations into the Hollywood mogul opened a worldwide conversation about the abuse and harassment of women; scalped a “who’s who” list of famous men; and wrested control of a news cycle that, until that moment, had been obsessed with Donald Trump. The only question mark seemed to be over which Weinstein story would win: Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s work for The New York Times, or Ronan Farrow’s for The New Yorker.

In the end, it was both—in the same category—as Twohey, Kantor, and Farrow shared in the prize for public service journalism (which also cited other reporters’ stories about Bill O’Reilly, Louis C.K., Bill Clinton, and Ford factory workers in Chicago). The Times also shared an award with The Washington Post—the two staffs split the national reporting prize for their work on the Russia investigation, writ large—while the Post claimed the investigative reporting honor for the effort, led by Stephanie McCrummen and Beth Reinhard, that ultimately derailed Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama.

ICYMI: The story of a journalist who became a killer

Together, that trifecta channeled the spirit of the 102nd class of Pulitzer winners. Stories that ignited, then fueled, the #MeToo moment were recognized, as were investigative teams at heavyweight outlets that have come to feel less like rivals and more like collaborators in parsing an unceasing torrent of explosive news. And while more male than female journalists were named as prize winners, that gender gap shrinks once Kantor, Twohey, McCrummen, and Reinhard’s contributions are taken into account.

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The Pulitzers were announced for the first time by Dana Canedy—a long-serving New York Times journalist who became the first woman and first person of color to be named administrator last year. She told CJR at the time that the Pulitzers would bring in new and diverse voices under her watch.

In a year that has seen student reporters take the lead in covering the Parkland shooting and subsequent push for gun control, Canedy literally brought fresh faces into the Pulitzer fold, inviting ninth graders from a news literacy program at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Queens to watch the announcement. “It was a good insight into how everything is decided within the industry, and how getting new reporters and new authors from different backgrounds is a recent thing, but that there’s progress occurring,” said one of the students, Andrea Tapia, afterward.

The biggest buzz in the room came with the final announcement in the letters, drama, and music category, which saw Kendrick Lamar win the music prize for his album Damn. “I had this joy when they announced Kendrick Lamar,” said Tapia. “I feel like there’s this growth of the younger generation getting their voice heard.”

While the Pulitzers still have work to do when it comes to the diversity of recipients—especially in representing journalists of color—Canedy sees progress in this year’s crop. “I mean, Kendrick Lamar just won a Pulitzer,” she told CJR. “How is that not progress?”

Other takeaways:

New media:

While the awards applauded digital storytelling components in several winning entries—including The Arizona Republic and the USA Today Network’s use of virtual reality and podcast content in their reporting on the Mexican border wall—most winning parties were traditional newspapers, magazines, and news agencies.

BuzzFeed was a runner-up in the international reporting category, and ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois were mentioned for explanatory and local reporting, respectively, though neither outlet won. And the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists wasn’t recognized at all for its collaborative Paradise Papers project (though it did win last year with the Panama Papers).

Keeping it local:

While larger outlets with legions of subscribers seem to be squeezing out local journalism in the mediasphere at large, the Pulitzers have always recognized the best of village, city, and state reporting.

This year was no different. Even though administrators announced late last year that Pulitzer rules would no longer limit the breaking news category to local outlets, a local outlet won anyway, with staff at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat honored for their coverage of the California wildfires. Reporters at The Arizona Republic, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Alabama Media Group, and the Des Moines Register all also won prizes, while Ryan Kelly, a photographer formerly with the Charlottesville Daily Progress, won for his instantly iconic image of the car attack at last summer’s white supremacist rally in the city.

“This was never meant to be a prize awarded [solely] to the institutions with the biggest resources,” Canedy said. “The system worked as it should.”

A flashier format:

Last year’s announcement was markedly austere: Outgoing Administrator Mike Pride stood behind a lectern and read winners’ names off a sheet of paper to a below-capacity crowd. This year, people had to be turned away as Canedy spoke from a polished podium under theater lights, framed by branded drapes. There were Pulitzer cocktails—1/2 ounce of St. Germain with prosecco and a lemon twist—and embossed gold and royal blue napkins.

“I think they started recording the Pulitzers three years or so ago, and the idea was just to stick a camera in the room and have it be sort of fly-on-the-wall,” Canedy told CJR. “But everything the Pulitzers does is about quality, and we wanted to increase the quality and have it professionally produced. So I brought in some producers and that’s what we did.”

ICYMI: Journalist behind depressing, viral Trump Jr. tweet speaks


The full list of 2018 winners:

Public Service:

The New York Times, for reporting led by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and The New Yorker, for reporting by Ronan Farrow: For explosive, impactful journalism that exposed powerful and wealthy sexual predators, including allegations against one of Hollywood’s most influential producers, bringing them to account for long-suppressed allegations of coercion, brutality and victim silencing, thus spurring a worldwide reckoning about sexual abuse of women.

Finalists: The Kansas City Star

Breaking News Reporting:

Staff of the Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.: For lucid and tenacious coverage of historic wildfires that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, expertly utilizing an array of tools, including photography, video and social media platforms, to bring clarity to its readers — in real time and in subsequent in-depth reporting.

Finalists: Staff of Houston Chronicle, Staff of The New York Times

Investigative Reporting:

Staff of The Washington Post: For purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls and subsequent efforts to undermine the journalism that exposed it.

Finalists: Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch of Miami Herald, Tim Eberly of The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Explanatory Reporting:

Staffs of The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network: For vivid and timely reporting that masterfully combined text, video, podcasts and virtual reality to examine, from multiple perspectives, the difficulties and unintended consequences of fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to construct a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Finalists: Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times, Staff of ProPublica

Local Reporting:

The Cincinnati Enquirer Staff: For a riveting and insightful narrative and video documenting seven days of greater Cincinnati’s heroin epidemic, revealing how the deadly addiction has ravaged families and communities.

Finalists: Jason Grotto, Sandhya Kambhampati and Ray Long of Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois, Staff of The Boston Globe

National Reporting:

Staffs of The New York Times and The Washington Post: For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration. (The New York Times entry, submitted in this category, was moved into contention by the Board and then jointly awarded the Prize.)

Finalists: Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Brett Murphy of USA Today Network

International Reporting:

Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall and Manuel Mogato of Reuters: For relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Finalists: Staff of Associated Press, Staff of BuzzFeed News

Feature Writing:

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, freelance reporter, GQ: For an unforgettable portrait of murderer Dylann Roof, using a unique and powerful mix of reportage, first-person reflection and analysis of the historical and cultural forces behind his killing of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

Finalists: John Woodrow Cox of The Washington Post, Norimitsu Onishi of The New York Times


John Archibald of Alabama Media Group, Birmingham, Ala.: For lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women and calling out hypocrisy.

Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker, Steve Lopez of Los Angeles Times


Jerry Saltz of New York magazine: For a robust body of work that conveyed a canny and often daring perspective on visual art in America, encompassing the personal, the political, the pure and the profane.

Finalists: Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times

Editorial Writing:

Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register: For examining in a clear, indignant voice, free of cliché or sentimentality, the damaging consequences for poor Iowa residents of privatizing the state’s administration of Medicaid.

Finalists: Editorial Staff of The New York Times, Sharon Grigsby of The Dallas Morning News

Editorial Cartooning:

Jake Halpern, freelance writer, and Michael Sloan, freelance cartoonist, The New York Times: For an emotionally powerful series, told in graphic narrative form, that chronicled the daily struggles of a real-life family of refugees and its fear of deportation.

Finalists: Mark Fiore, freelance cartoonist, Mike Thompson of Detroit Free Press

Breaking News Photography:

Ryan Kelly of The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.: For a chilling image that reflected the photographer’s reflexes and concentration in capturing the moment of impact of a car attack during a racially charged protest in Charlottesville, Va.

Finalists: Ivor Prickett, freelance photographer, The New York Times

Feature Photography:

Photography Staff of Reuters: For shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar. (Moved by the Board from the Breaking News Photography category, where it was entered.)

Finalists: Kevin Frayer, freelance photographer, Getty Images, Lisa Krantz of San Antonio Express-News, Meridith Kohut, freelance photographer, The New York Times

ICYMI: Q&A: Dana Canedy on the future of the Pulitzer Prizes

Jon Allsop and Kelsey Ables are the authors of the article. Allsop is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop. Ables is an editorial assistant.