'Investigative reporting is obviously alive and well' and other observations from first-time Pulitzer jurors

Pulitzer Medals. (Photo from Columbia University)
Pulitzer Medals. (Photo from Columbia University)

This year, several first-time Pulitzer Prize jurors came from online news organizations and platforms, including Quartz, Twitter, Trove, The Marshall Project and The Texas Tribune. I spoke with three of them about their experiences judging the Pulitzers. They can't talk in specifics about entries, but they did talk about what the Pulitzers say about journalism, the role of social media and what they'd like to see next.

1. On what makes for powerful work and where that work is coming from:

"I think the winners this year validate the fact that important, game-changing journalism is being produced regardless of the medium, and that newspapers — even those facing dwindling resources — are continuing to emphasize the most important kind of reporting, work that exposes injustice," said Emily Ramshaw, editor of The Texas Tribune. "In the category I judged, investigative reporting, the winners had incredibly strong digital presentations and gave readers the opportunity to engage with those projects on a variety of platforms."

"Investigative reporting is obviously alive and well, from daily newspapers big and small to digital-first news sites to magazines," Ramshaw added. "News organizations are clearly putting their limited resources where they count — high-impact, game-changing reporting — and that's reflected in the entries."

2. On what makes good storytelling:

S. Mitra Kalita, outgoing editor-at-large for Quartz and incoming managing editor at the Los Angeles Times (and a Poynter adjunct faculty member), said that Web-only content was an element for every finalist submitted in the international reporting category, "and I'd like to think that it’s really impossible for any jury to now consider just straight-up prose without thinking of all the other elements of a story."

Video and data visualizations stuck out this year, said Kalita, who was a juror in the international reporting category. They often offer better ways to tell stories, "and what the Pulitzers are judging is the story."

Social media continues to be part of the storytelling package, too.

"I think there was, in most of the entries that we saw, some sort of social media presence," said Mark Luckie, manager of journalism and news at Twitter and a juror in the breaking news category.

"Twitter is such a part of breaking news," he said. "What we noticed is that a lot of entries did have Twitter as their first response."

Screenshot from The Seattle Times Pulitzer-winning entry.
Screenshot from The Seattle Times Pulitzer-winning entry.

In 2014, The Boston Globe included tweets as part of its Pulitzer-winning package in breaking news. In 2013, The Denver Post did the same, as did the Tuscaloosa News in 2012.

3. On what they'd like to see in the future:

"I think one great takeaway is that you do go in and you come out vowing to do journalism differently," Kalita said. "I keep thinking what a gift that would be if we gave that to more young reporters and editors, and also what an important voice to have at the table."

Ramshaw said she'd like to see the process "go entirely digital — to be able to judge entries as they originally appeared on the web, versus reading them through an entry portal where written stories have been turned into pdfs, and interactive elements are considered supplemental material. I think a lot of what digital-first news organizations in particular are producing is best judged through a fully immersive interactive experience, and that those projects should be judged the way they were meant to be consumed."

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