Special Pulitzer edition
What stands out is it’s clear the Pulitzer Prize Board does not grade on a curve.
Good journalism is good journalism regardless of the size of the newsroom or annual budget or circulation. Winners included some of the big guys, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. But the winners also included the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Advocate of Baton Rouge and The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, which won a special citation for its heroic ability to continue publishing after a shooter entered the newsroom and killed five of its staffers.
The biggest award of all, the public service Pulitzer, went to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which (like many newsrooms) has undergone major cutbacks in recent years.
Poynter President Neil Brown, a member of the Pulitzer board, said, “What comes through in this year’s prizes, including the work of the finalists, is tenacious accountability journalism.”
There is plenty to celebrate and respect from Monday’s awards, but two stood out to me. The first was the Sun Sentinel’s Pulitzer for exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February of 2018.
The other was New York Times’ reporter David Barstow winning his fourth Pulitzer, tying him with Washington Post and former Miami Herald photographer Carol Guzy for most ever wins by a journalist. Along with Times colleagues Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, Barstow won in the category of explanatory reporting for an 18-month investigation of President Donald Trump’s finances.
I had a chance to look closer at both Pulitzer winners.
Sun Sentinel’s bittersweet Pulitzer
The reaction inside the Sun Sentinel newsroom Monday when the staff found out it had won a Pulitzer Prize? “Complex,” editor-in-chief Julie Anderson told me.
“I don’t think it ever left our minds of why we won and the tragedy that we were covering,” she said.
The horrific high school shooting that killed 17 students and staffers and wounded 17 more still haunts South Florida, including those who worked on the story for the Sun Sentinel.
Reporter Brittany Wallman told me, “Most of us can’t talk about the coverage without getting emotional. The community is still grieving and we’re grieving right along with them.”
The impressive part, several Sun Sentinel staffers said, was how journalists across the newsroom galvanized to report every possible angle. For example, longtime metro columnist Michael Mayo is now the food columnist at the Sun Sentinel, but he returned to news and was part of a dozen or so journalists who dedicated most of the past year to the story.
This is a newsroom, mind you, that had an estimated 350 journalists in 2005 and now has somewhere around 85.
“It was inspiring to see how we all came together, no questions asked, to do the work that needed to be done,” Mayo said. “This was critical work, and it continues to be.”
Barstow’s record Pulitzer
The New York Times’ David Barstow told me he was shocked to have won his fourth Pulitzer.
“The journalism gods have been very, very good to me,” Barstow said.
Truth be told, Barstow has been very, very good for journalism.
“I just believe so deeply that independent, honest journalism is absolutely critical to a functioning democracy,” Barstow said. “It’s really that simple. I think we’re like gardeners and we pull weeds. It’s not always the sexiest work, but it’s really important work and if we don’t pull those weeds then the garden doesn’t grow. That’s the way I feel and that’s what makes me keep doing it.”
Barstow previously won Pulitzers in 2004 (public service), 2009 (investigative) and 2013 (investigative). Before joining the Times in 1999, Barstow worked at the then-St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), where he was a three-time Pulitzer finalist.
More Pulitzer thoughts
The Capital Gazette was awarded a special citation, the first time the Pulitzer board has done that since 2010. Poynter’s Kristen Hare has that story.
It has been a rocky couple of years at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but the paper won a well-deserved Pulitzer in breaking news for its coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Kristen Hare has the news from the Post-Gazette.
Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds looks at the local reporting Pulitzer won by the Advocate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Three Pulitzers were awarded to projects directly related to President Donald Trump: the New York Times’ explanatory story on Trump’s finances, the Wall Street Journal’s national reporting project on Trump’s secret payoffs to women who claimed to have affairs with him and freelancer Darrin Bell’s editorial cartoons involving the president.
Elsewhere in the media world
Check out Brian Stelter’s newsletter from CNN as he has the front pages of eight European newspapers and their coverage of the heartbreaking fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
I want to correct something I had written in a previous newsletter about the upcoming Peabody Awards. The winners will be unveiled over the next two weeks with the honorees being recognized at a gala in New York City on May 18. Today, documentary winners will be announced. On Thursday, entertainment/children and youth winners will be named. Then, next Tuesday (April 23), news/radio/web/public service programming winners will be unveiled.
Back to a normal newsletter Wednesday. Be sure to check Poynter.org for the latest Pulitzer news and analysis. See you tomorrow.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Poynter training:
- Teachapalooza: Front-Edge Teaching Tools for College Educators (seminar). Deadline: May 3.
- Broadcast Writing: Write Like You Talk (webinar). April 18 at 2 p.m. Eastern time
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