This year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, announced Monday, are a cornucopia of reporting, of working the phones, and sources and email and Twitter, as well as shoe leather. (The winners and their work are online at pulitzer.org.)
The gold medal for Public Service went to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, in Fort Lauderdale, its second win of the top prize. This time it was for the paper’s coverage of the aftermath of the shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Here is one headline in that package of work: “Hide, deny, spin, threaten: How the school district tried to mask failures that led to Parkland shooting.”
We have been told that journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed, and everything else is public relations; we have also been told that George Orwell said that, which does not appear to be the case – but the sentiment is no less applicable. We can readily imagine how a school district tried to stonewall the hometown newspaper, and delight at seeing stubbornness rewarded.
The Pulitzer board also gave a special citation “to honor the journalists, staff and editorial board of the Capital Gazette, Annapolis, Maryland, for their courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in U.S. history in their newsroom on June 28, 2018, and for demonstrating unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief,” accompanied by a $100,000 bequest by the Pulitzer Board “to be used to further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.”
It is one of the proudest traditions in newspapering that no matter what happens – and it is hard to imagine something worse than a gunman slaying reporters and editors in your newsroom – you cover the story. If you do not run to the guns, you hide, if you are lucky – and take notes.
The award for breaking news reporting was for another mass shooting, which begins to tell you what kind of a year 2018 was through the prism of news. It went to the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its coverage of the massacre of Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, “that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.”
This, too, is in the finest tradition of newspapering. When something very bad happens, something foul and abominable, the paper is there to reflect and focus its magnitude. It is common ground. It asks why when answers are not forthcoming, and helps its community grieve.
The award for investigative reporting went to Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times, for exposing a University of Southern California campus gynecologist accused of violating hundreds of young women.
Will there be fewer George Tyndalls if we have more of this sort of work? Will we ever expose them all, root out the malefactors? Probably not, but these good reporters know their work is never done. Like the people who must paint the Golden Gate bridge, they cannot afford despair. And that is why the prize is a tonic.
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal won prizes for explanatory and national reporting, for delving into President Donald Trump’s finances and his secret payoffs to women during his presidential campaign who claimed to have had affairs with him. This is running to the fire that is always burning, this far into the Trump presidency; and there is always, it seems, another child or puppy to be rescued from the blaze. Sometimes it is enough to be reminded, by expert practitioners of their craft, that this is not normal – or at least, it did not used to be.
There were more prizes, particularly for the reporters who looked out for the little guy or gal, which is another part of the code of news-gathering; and on a day while Notre Dame burned and French journalists scrambled, it was nice to see the reporters honored – and then go right back to work.