There's a lot of exciting individual work highlighted in the 2011 Pulitzers for journalism, but here are the headlines: two newspapers, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, were the only publications to receive multiple honors. ProPublica, the investigative journalism site, won its second Pulitzer in as many years; its award this year is notable for honoring ProPublica's web series, while last year's was a collaboration with The New York Times Magazine. And for the first time in its 95-year history, there was no winner in the Breaking News Reporting category, despite big events like the earthquake in Haiti, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the insane floods in Tennessee. This is the 25th time overall that a Pulitzer Prize has not been offered in one of its categories.
And finally, I am astonished -- astonished -- that the Washington Post's "Top Secret America" investigation was not even a Pulizer finalist. This is a crime. (Yes, one that calls for bold-italics-underlined type.)
That said, let's dig in to the details. (Also, see my commentary on the 2011 Pulitzer winners in arts and literature here.)
PUBLIC SERVICE - Los Angeles Times
FINALISTS: Bloomberg News for the work of Daniel Golden, John Hechinger and John Lauerman, who revealed how some for-profit colleges exploit low-income students; and Alan Schwarz of The New York Times for investigating concussions in football and other sports.
The Los Angeles Times wins, deservedly, for its devastating series of reports that exposed corruption in the city of Bell, California. A team of twenty reporters and editors were led by journalists Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives (pictured above just after receiving news of their win) in an investigation that revealed how Bell city officials "secretly enriched themselves with extravagant salaries and benefits while illegally raising taxes on the city's residents, who are among the poorest in Los Angeles County," as the newspaper describes it. The investigation led to felony charges being laid against eight city officials, including former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, who received an $800,000 salary and much more in perks. Rizzo and the others are all no longer in their jobs. Bell residents are now getting millions of dollars back in rebates for the illegal taxes their corrupt officials collected, and California passed several new disclosure laws for cities and counties regarding public pay and pension funds as a result of the Times report.
Guatemala-born Ruben Vives, incidentally, is three years into his reporting career. Jeffrey Gottlieb, on the other hand, has been a newspaperman for more than three decades. See more on their partnership here. Their Bell investigation also received the Selden Ring Award, the American Society of News Editors' award for local accountability reporting, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' top honor and the George Polk Award for local reporting.
Altogether, this is badass, and personally one of my favorite journalistic projects in awhile.
- The Los Angeles Times - Be sure to check out the newspaper's collection of its multimedia coverage of the Bell story here.
- Bloomberg News - "For-Profit College Slump Converging With Student Life-Debtors"
- The New York Times - Collection of coverage on head injuries in football
BREAKING NEWS REPORTING - No Award
FINALISTS: The Chicago Tribune staff for its coverage of two Chicago firefighters who were killed while searching for squatters in an abandoned burning building; The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, a joint staff entry, for their coverage of the devastating earthquake in Haiti; and The Tennessean's staff in Nashville for coverage of the flood that blitzed Middle Tennessee.
No award! For the finalists, this must feel awfully bitter, lured to the podium, as it were, only to be shoved off in front of a global audience. The priorities for this category are speed and accuracy for breaking news reports, with new rules instituted this year that advise judges to consider stories that use “any available journalistic tool, including text reporting, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or any combination of those formats, in print or online or both.” The Poynter Institute notes that this is the category that receives the fewest number of nominations (which is in itself fascinating given our multi-platform 'breaking news' media environment.) There were 37 nominees this year, which is slightly down from last year. Of interest: one of these finalists is a joint entry, with one of the partners being a non-English publication -- not usual.
- The Chicago Tribune - 'Devastating'
- The Tennessean - Special Report: Nashville Flood (from which the above photo comes)
- The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald - Collection of coverage on Haitian earthquake
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING - Paige St. John of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
FINALISTS: Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times for spotlighting medical radiation errors that injure thousands of Americans; and Sam Roe and Jared S. Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune for their investigation of 13 deaths at a home for severely disabled children and young adults.
It's rather a delight to see Paige St. John win in this category so soon after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's job description for an investigative reporter position went viral for being just plain awesome. In this case, St. John wins for "her examination of weaknesses in the murky property-insurance system vital to Florida homeowners, providing handy data to assess insurer reliability and stirring regulatory action," according to the Pulitzer committee. This was a two-year investigation that depended upon computer-assisted reporting to tell the story about why Florida property owners pay the highest insurance rates in the nation. She developed a database that turned out to serve as an online tool for Floridians to search for information about their insurance companies. This is the Herald-Tribune's first Pulitzer. (It has been a finalist twice before.)
- Paige St. John - Florida Property Insurance Investigation
- Walt Bogdanich - Radiation Boom
- Sam Roe/Jared S. Hopkins - "The final hours of Jeremiah Clark"
EXPLANATORY REPORTING - Mark Johnson, Kathleen, Gallagher, Gary Porter, Lou Saldivar and Alison Sherwood of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
FINALISTS: The Wall Street Journal staff for looking into the shadowy world of Medicare fraud and abuse in Medicare; and The Washington Post staff for its exploration of how the military is using trauma surgery, brain science and other techniques to reduce fatalities among the wounded in warfare.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is on a roll. It has won three Pulitzers in four years, including two years running. This time around, they are honored for "their lucid examination of an epic effort to use genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy imperiled by a mysterious disease, told with words, graphics, videos and other images." (See the staff celebrate news of their win above; I love the celebration shots.) The series followed doctors as they tried to figure out what was happening to the young boy. The team behind this included two reporters, a photographer, a graphics editor, and an interactive producer (ie, video). See background on the series of reports here.
- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "One In A Billion: A boy's life, a medical mystery"
- Wall Street Journal: "Confidentiality Cloaks Medicare Abuse"
- Washington Post: "Multimedia: Returning soldiers deal with behavorial symptoms and recovery from traumatic brain injury"
LOCAL REPORTING - Frank Main, Mark Konkol and John J. Kim of the Chicago Sun-Times
FINALISTS: Marshall Allen and Alex Richards of the Las Vegas Sun for their reports on patients who suffered preventable injuries and other harm during hospital care; and Stanley Nelson of a weekly newspaper, the Concordia (La.) Sentinel, for his efforts to unravel a long forgotten Ku Klux Klan murder during the civil rights era.
This is the first Pulitzer Prize for the Sun-Times since 1989. The winning team of two reporters and a photographer is celebrated by the Pulitzer Committee for "their immersive documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods, probing the lives of victims, criminals and detectives as a widespread code of silence impedes solutions." That is, the code of no snitching. One of the reporters, Frank Main, spent four months embedded with homicide detectives for one of the articles in the series. The year-long investigation that, as the paper itself put it, set out to explain "“why they won’t stop shooting in Chicago.”
- Chicago Sun-Times - "Sun-Times reporters, photographer, win Pulitzer for local reporting"
- Las Vegas Sun - "A hidden epidemic" (from which the above photo comes)
- Concodia (La.) Sentinel - "Rayville Man implicated in Frank Morris case"
NATIONAL REPORTING - Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein of ProPublica
FINALISTS: David Evans of Bloomberg News for his revelations of how life insurance companies retained death benefits owed to families of military veterans and other Americans; and The Wall Street Journal staff for covering the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
For the first time, a Pulitzer goes to a set of stories that has never been in print. Rather, this series ran online through ProPublica and on radio through "Planet Money" and "This American Life." The series is noted for its "exposure of questionable practices on Wall Street that contributed to the nation’s economic meltdown, using digital tools to help explain the complex subject to lay readers."
- ProPublica - "The Wall Street Money Machine" (from which the above photo comes)
- ProPublica: "A Note on ProPublica's Second Pulitzer Prize"
- Bloomberg News - "Fallen Soldiers' Families Denied Cash as Insurers Profit"
- Wall Street Journal - Collection of coverage on "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill"
INTERNATIONAL REPORTING - Clifford J. Levy and Ellen Barry of The New York Times
FINALISTS: Deborah Sontag of The New York Times for her coverage of the earthquake in Haiti; and The Wall Street Journal staff for its examination of the causes of Europe's debt crisis.
This pair from the Times is honored "for their dogged reporting that put a human face on the faltering justice system in Russia, remarkably influencing the discussion inside the country." Levy has been the Moscow bureau chief for the newspaper since 2007; he won a Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting in 2003 (amazingly, it was the Times' first win in that category since it was first offered in 1985). Barry has been a correspondent from Moscow since 2008. She was part of a Pulitzer-winning team for Breaking News a few years ago, and was individually a finalist in both 2004 and 2002 (in Beat Reporting and Feature Writing respectively).
- New York Times - Collection of coverage from "Above the Law"
- New York Times - Collection of coverage by Deborah Sontag
- Wall Street Journal - Collection of coverage from "Euro Zone Crisis"
FEATURE WRITING - Amy Ellis Nutt of The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.
FINALISTS: Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., for his account of a South Carolina neurosurgeon's quest to teach brain surgery in Tanzania, possibly providing a new model for health care in developing countries; and Michael M. Phillips of The Wall Street Journal for his portfolio of stories about the war in Afghanistan.
Nutt wins for "her deeply probing story of the mysterious sinking of a commercial fishing boat in the Atlantic Ocean that drowned six men," according to the Pulitzer citation. She spent seven months reporting for a 20-page special section (which sounds so luxurious for any publication, let alone a major daily!)
- The Star-Ledger - "The Wreck of the Lady Mary, Chapter 1" (from which the above photo comes)
- The Post and Courier - "A Doctor's Quest: Teaching brain surgery in the bush"
- Wall Street Journal - "U.S. Takes Over Fight in Helmand"
COMMENTARY - David Leonhardt of The New York Times
FINALISTS: Phillip Morris of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland for his blend of local storytelling and unpredictable opinions; and Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune for her columns exploring life and the concerns of a metropolis.
Leonhardt wins for what the Pulitzer committee calls his "graceful penetration of America’s complicated economic questions, from the federal budget deficit to health care reform." He was a finalist for the same prize last year. The 38-year-old who majored in math has been writing for the Times since 1999.
- New York Times - Collection of columns by David Leonhardt
- The Plain Dealer - Collection of columns by Phillip Morris (Unrelated: Can you believe this guy's name is Phillip Morris?)
- Chicago Tribune - Collection of columns by Mary Schmich
CRITICISM - Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe
FINALISTS: Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly for his restaurant reviews, escorting readers through a city's diverse food culture; and Nicolai Ouroussoff of The New York Times for his architectural criticism, including essays on the burst of architectural projects in oil-rich Middle East countries.
I will note at the top of the report that no literary criticism made it into the top three this year, alas. Rather, Sebastian Smee's art criticism for the Globe is honored due to "his vivid and exuberant writing about art, often bringing great works to life with love and appreciation." The native Australian began writing for the paper three years ago (curiously, during the worst of the newspaper layoffs) and was a finalist in this category in his first year of eligibility. This is the third time in a decade that a Globe critic has taken this prize.
- Boston Globe - Collection of articles by Sebastian Smee
- LA Weekly - Collection of articles by Jonathan Gold
- New York Times - Collection of articles by Nicolai Ouroussoff
EDITORIAL WRITING - Joseph Rago of The Wall Street Journal
FINALISTS: Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post for his editorials on foreign affairs; and John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune for his campaign to reform the Illinois public pension system.
Continuing with the topical trend in this years Pulitzers (ie, economics, Wall Street), Joseph Rago wins for his editorials on health care. Specifically, he is cited for his "well crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Obama." Rago, only 28 years old, has been writing about health care even before it was as headline-grabby as it is now (that is, since 2007).
- Wall Street Journal - Collection of editorials by Joseph Rago
- Washington Post - Collection of editorials by Jackson Diehl
- Chicago Tribune - Collection of editorials by John McCormick
EDITORIAL CARTOONING - Mike Keefe of The Denver Post
FINALISTS: Matt Davies of The Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y.; and Joel Pett of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.
Mike Keefe has been cartooning since 1975 for The Denver Post, a career turn that followed his tenure as a math teacher. The Pulitzer committee likes his "widely ranging cartoons that employ a loose, expressive style to send strong, witty messages." Keefe is a past president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. You can click through his nominated portfolio here. As for finalist Matt Davies, incidentally, it turns out that he was laid off just after the elections last year. It's brutal out there, folks.
- Mike Keefe's Political Cartoons
- Matt Davies' Blog
- Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader - Collection of Joel Prett's cartoons
BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY - Carol Guzy, Nikki Kahn and Ricky Carioti of The Washington Post
FINALISTS: Daniel Berehulak and Paula Bronstein of Getty Images for their images of historic floods in Pakistan; and Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times for her photos of the Gulf oil spill and its impact on the surrounding communities.
The trio of photographers for the Post are honored "for their up-close portrait of grief and desperation after a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti." For Carol Guzy, 52, this is her fourth Pulitzer Prize. The photo, above, is one of Guzy's.
- Washington Post - Gallery: "Haiti's Profound Sorrow"
- Getty Images - Gallery: Daniel Berehulak
- Getty Images - Gallery: Paula Bronstein
- Los Angeles Times - Gallery: "Gulf Oil Spill"
FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY - Barbara Davidson of the Los Angeles Times
FINALISTS: Todd Heisler of The New York Times for his portrayal of a large Colombian clan carrying a genetic mutation that causes Alzheimer's disease in early middle age; and Greg Kahn of The Naples Daily News for his pictures about the mixed impact of the recession in Florida — loss of jobs and homes for some but profit for others.
Barbara Davidson wins for "her intimate story of innocent victims trapped in the city’s crossfire of deadly gang violence." I am charmed by the characterization of her feature photography as "story." This is Davidson's second Pulitzer Prize. And that is her photo, above, of ten-year-old Erica Miranda.