From meritorious public service for the coverage of Parkland school shooting and breaking the Pittsburgh synagogue rampage, to unearthing US president Donald Trump’s dubious finances, campaign finance violations, and hush money payments to two women, Pulitzer Prize 2019 has recognised reporters, editors, publishers, photographers, artists and media organisations for their immeasurable and groundbreaking contribution not only to journalism, but also to literary, visual, and the performing arts.
With a special posthumous citation to the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, the awards for best drama, editorial writing, and cartooning went to African-American playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, writer Brent Staples, and artist Darrin Bell, respectively. This seems to suggest that the Pulitzer jury is slowly shedding its longstanding image of favouring whiteness. Last year, it had notably given the music award to rapper Kendrick Lamar.
Among this year’s recipients were two jailed Reuters journalists who were put behind bars for investigating the role of Myanmar’s military in the Rohingya genocide and exodus.
The list of finalists and winners for 2019 were announced on Monday.
PUBLIC SERVICE: The South Florida Sun Sentinel
The Sun Sentinel’s sweeping coverage of the causes and consequences of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was chosen over The Washington Post and ProPublica for public service in “exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials” especially in Broward County.
BREAKING NEWS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For its compassionate and timely coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette was cited for breaking news. One of the accounts of the attack began with the first words of the Mourners’ Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead. Other articles examined the victims’ lives, the harrowing experiences of survivors and the quick reactions of first responders.
INVESTIGATIVE AND EXPLANATORY REPORTING
The Los Angeles Times was honoured for a series of articles that exposed a pattern of abuse by a University of Southern California gynecologist who violated hundreds of young women for more than a quarter of a century.
The New York Times led an 18-month investigation of President Trump’s finances to prove his claims of self-made wealth false. In this course, it revealed a business empire “riddled with tax dodges” that ultimately led city and state officials to open investigations into whether Trump and his family had underpaid taxes on his father’s real estate empire, while participating in fraudulent tax schemes.
LOCAL, NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL REPORTING
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, was cited for its staff’s “damning portrayal of the state’s discriminatory conviction system, including a Jim Crow-era law” that allowed juries to convict defendants without unanimous verdicts
The Wall Street Journal bagged the national award, once again for exposing Trump’s hush payments from campaign funds before the elections in 2016, to silence two women who alleged having sexual encounters with the presidential candidate.
For international reporting, the Pulitzer committee identified by staff reporters of two reputed media organisations, Associated Press and Reuters, who played an instrumental role in putting the global spotlight on the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Myanmar.
Maggie Michael, Maad al-Zikry and Nariman El-Mofty of AP won for their series “detailing the atrocities of the war in Yemen, including theft of food aid, deployment of child soldiers and torture of prisoners.”
Alongside the Reuters staff, two reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were specifically cited for “expertly exposing the military units and Buddhist villagers responsible for the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.” They were arrested in December 2017 and later sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on the atrocities.
FEATURE WRITING, COMMENTARY AND CRITICISM
Hannah Dreier of ProPublica presented sensitive and detailed portraits of Salvadoran immigrants, exposing a “botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13” had made collateral victims out of them. She calibrated her features to highlight how Trump’s correlation of tie immigration to gang violence was, in fact, the opposite of reality: immigrants are often victims of the crime groups.
Tony Messenger, metro columnist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, received the citation for commentary after his series exposed how poor people convicted of misdemeanor crimes were charged fees for their time in jail, sometimes leading to years of debt and further imprisonment.
Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic, won for his eye-opening and cerebral essays on politics, truth, immigration and American identity in the Trump era.
EDITORIAL WRITING AND CARTOONING
A member of The New York Times’s editorial board, Brent Staples was cited for his writing on racial justice and culture, including pieces about how the suffrage movement betrayed black women, Southern newspapers’ role in lynchings and the Afrofuturism behind the movie “Black Panther.”
The first African-American winner in the editorial cartooning category, Darrin Bell was cited for “calling out lies, hypocrisy and fraud.” His work addresses racial injustice and political turmoil surrounding the Trump administration and is believed to have been inspired by Trayvon Martin’s death by police brutality.
Eleven Reuters photographers won the prize for breaking news photography for its series “On the Migrant Trail to America.” The winning compositions are heart-wrenching depictions of the violent conditions that Central American migrants were escaping, and the harsh response they received from the authorities when they reached the US border.
Lorenzo Tugnoli of The Washington Post was cited for brilliant photo storytelling of the tragic famine in Yemen that respectfully held a mirror to the crisis.
LETTERS, DRAMA AND MUSIC
The Overstory by Richard Powers, Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury
and Be With by Forrest Gander won the fiction, drama and poetry awards respectively.
With trees as its central character, the environmental plot of The Overstory is “an ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them,” reads the Pulitzer citation.
Drury’s play is odd, terrific and “productively uncomfortable” insofar as it is conceptual and layered, subverting white gaze and revealing America’s deep-seated prejudices with race. It also marked the third consecutive win of American theater’s most prestigious honor by a female playwright.
Gander’s poetry is elegiac, grapples with loss, grief and yearning for the departed, inspired by the death of his wife, critically acclaimed poetess C. D. Wright, in 2016.
In Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, which won the citation for music, a mother and daughter grapple with trauma and guilt after a sexual assault through operatic “vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres” to confront the effects of emotional and sexual abuse.
Recognising the impact of journalism
Despite coming under attack for its controversial choices in some categories and gender inequality in some of its juries, the Pulitzer Prize remains committed to valuing consequential reporting in its final list of winners and some among its finalists as well.
The best example of that is The Sentinel’s coverage of the school shooting which shaped the national gun safety debate and prompted changes in local policies, although the crusade is far from over. The paper addressed a culture of leniency, lags in responding to the attack and attempts by officials to mask their failures.
Similarly, the LA Times’ reports on Dr. George Tyndall’s transgressions and the USC’s lackadaisical response, led to the resignation of the university’s president and prompted local, state and federal investigations.
Messenger’s columns resulted in a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that the demanding fees from poor convicts was illegal, although the reporter said it persists.
The AP reporters in Yemen documented, in text, video and photography, the civilian deaths caused by US drones and interviewed torture victims in the ongoing civil war. This enabled the elevation of the crisis to one of the worst humanitarian disasters at the UN as well as in global perspectives.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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