June 11, 2021

In a bitterly contested election year, in the first pandemic in a century, one topic was the most prevalent among 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winners — policing in America.

Of the 15 journalism prizes, six went to work that covered, questioned and exposed police abuses. They include:

Breaking News Reporting: Staff of The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune for coverage of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.

Explanatory Reporting: Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell and Jackie Botts of Reuters for coverage of qualified immunity and how it shields police officers from prosecution. 

National Reporting: The staffs of The Marshall Project, Alabama Media Group, The Indianapolis Star and the Invisible Institute for an investigation into police K9 units.

Local Reporting: Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times for coverage of a police program that monitored children. (Disclosure: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times and I work with the newsroom on an obits project.)

Breaking News Photography: Staff of the Associated Press for coverage of the response around the country to George Floyd’s murder.

Editorial Writing: Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times for a series of columns, including work on policing. 

At the Tampa Bay Times, reporter McGrory found a small reference in a lawsuit mentioning an intelligence program, said former investigative editor Adam Playford, who is now an editor with The New York Times. 

“And it kind of just blew us away.”

“It immediately struck us,” said Bedi, who started reporting with McGrory on what became a “series exposing a Sheriff’s Office initiative that used computer modeling to identify people believed to be future crime suspects. About 1,000 people were monitored under the program, including children,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“We started this project before it became such a huge national conversation,” said Bedi, now a reporter at ProPublica. “That happened right in the middle of our reporting. It gave us more urgency.”

The prevalence of work covering law enforcement shows how important police are in our lives, Playford said. 

I think this is a moment when people are thinking about their relationships with police officers and with policing,” he said.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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