Celebrating Pulitzer-Winning Journalists

A prestigious awards presentation took place earlier this month that you might have missed. It didn’t include a comedian as its host or any controversial commentary. It wasn’t televised, and it probably didn’t make the trending topics in your social media “news” feed.

Unlike other high-profile industry honors such as the Academy Awards, the Grammys and the Oscars, the Pulitzer Prizes honor hardworking writers, poets, photographers, audio reporters, illustrators and musicians. Of the 22 Pulitzer Prize categories, 15 are specifically for journalism. Most of us wouldn’t recognize many of those journalists’ names or even some of the media outlets they work for. But it’s important to celebrate their work as both a reflection of our society and as a protector of our democracy.

This year’s prizes come at a time when seeking truth and revealing facts is more dangerous than ever, especially where freedom of the press is restricted. Even here at home, the free press and those who report the news are under assault like never before. Because one of the most important roles of a free press is as a watchdog over power, these threats place our democracy under assault. 

Consider the value of this year’s Pulitzer-winning investigative reporting by the Tampa Bay Times for its look into the toxic hazards of a battery recycling plant. That reporting led to new safety measures for workers and nearby residents. Or consider the breaking news reporting by Miami Herald journalists on the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, which mixed compassionate storytelling with the need for accountability. 

This year’s Pulitzers illustrate again how both local and national journalism are so vital to our understanding of what is often hidden away, either deliberately or because no one else has thought to ask. But they also indicate a not-so-subtle trend in reporting. 

As we noted several years ago, economic trends and consolidation have devastated local newsrooms. This has led to a surge in nonprofit news organizations. The Institute for Nonprofit News says 2020 saw the fastest growth of nonprofit news media, and correlating audience growth, since 2008 “when many journalists left legacy media to create nonprofit newsrooms.” 

This trend is showing up on the Pulitzer podium. In the last two years, nonprofit newsrooms on the Pulitzer list have included ProPublica, NPR, The Marshall Project, the Better Government Association, and Quanta Magazine. In several instances, they collaborated with traditional for-profit newsrooms with national reputations. We applaud the resiliency and promise inherent in this trend.

Of course, it’s fun to review the Oscar winners to remind us of films we may have missed. But the Pulitzer lists show us stories we may have missed that mirror back to us where we are as a society and help us make sense of issues that affect us locally and as Americans. 

In the end, the Pulitzers may not carry the same weight in the public mind as Oprah’s or Reese’s book club — but, in fact, the weight is much, much greater, because the stakes are much, much higher.