May 9, 2023

Monday was a big day in journalism. The Pulitzer Prizes, recognizing the very best in journalism, were awarded.

I wrote an overview story for the Poynter website: “Spotlight on local reporting and Ukraine highlight Pulitzer Prizes.”

Check out that story for all the details, as well as the complete list of winners and finalists from my colleague Ren LaForme.

For today’s newsletter, here are some of the Pulitzer highlights, random thoughts and tidbits.

A spotlight on local

Here’s a twist on an old (and slightly sarcastic) saying in journalism: Do you want good government or good journalism? Where bad government exists, good journalism is necessary, and we saw just how critical local journalism was in this year’s Pulitzers.

At least five winners had local angles. The Los Angeles Times, two from, Mississippi Today and the Miami Herald all involved scandals or malfeasance involving local authorities. This once again shows how important journalism is, and how much it can still have an impact at a time when local news outlets are struggling financially.

The Pulitzer for Local Reporting has become my favorite category because of the impact it has on a community of citizens just like you and me. These stories often start with a phone call or an email, followed by a public records request and then good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. It’s not glamorous, there are twists and turns and deadends, but if there is something wrong going on, good reporters will sniff it out.

These Pulitzer winners prove it.

What’s up with Bama?

The state of Alabama is known for college football and, apparently, Pulitzer Prize-worthy topics.

As my colleague Jennifer Orsi notes, “News, commentary and a book involving Alabama won three Pulitzers Monday and another two finalists were named for coverage in Alabama from out-of-state news outlets.”

Two of the winners came from My colleague Angela Fu points out what a great day Monday was for Check out her story: “This Alabama newsroom won two Pulitzers — tying with the AP, New York Times and other national papers.”

Like father like son’s Pulitzer in Local Reporting also produced something unusual. The reporting team included John Archibald, who won a Pulitzer for column writing in 2018. It also included Archibald’s son, Ramsey.

John Archibald told The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin, “I feel stunned. It’s a great honor. And to do it with your kid — I’m telling you, that’s gold.”

Mississippi Today’s big win

All the local reporting journalists deserve kudos, but I wanted to take special note of Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe and her investigative series called “The Backchannel.”

This series is about Mississippi’s $77 million welfare scandal that includes some big names, most notably former NFL star Brett Favre. This is an infuriating story: money that was meant for some of the poorest residents in one of the country’s poorest states instead went to benefit friends and family of the former governor.

My colleague Amaris Castillo wrote about the project in “Investigation into welfare money steered to Brett Favre wins Pulitzer for Mississippi Today reporter.”

About winning a Pulitzer, Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, told Castillo, “I’m very aware of the importance of this moment for us and for Anna and for me, and it’s the top of the mountain for any journalist in America. So for us to have done this at little ol’ Mississippi Today … we have scrapped our way through the startup phase just a little bit more than seven years ago in early 2016, to building up the largest newsroom in the state, to having some, I think, real impact in our reporting on Mississippi — a state that really desperately needs that reporting. It is just an honor.”

Story of the year

Last August, I wrote this: “It is journalism at its very finest.”

I was writing about Caitlin Dickerson’s remarkable piece for The Atlantic: “‘We Need To Take Children Away.’” It looked at the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border.

The story is nearly 30,000 words, making it one of the longest published in the outlet’s 165-year history. It took 18 months to report and write, and Dickerson conducted more than 150 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of internal government documents.

In a statement, The Atlantic said, “Her reporting, one of the longest articles in The Atlantic’s history, laid out in painstaking detail one of the darkest chapters in recent U.S. history, exposing not only how the policy came into being and who was responsible for it, but also how all of its worst outcomes were anticipated and ignored.”

As I wrote when the story came out: “Carve out some time to read this important story. I won’t sugarcoat it. Some of the details are hard to read. But they are too important not to.”

Speaking of The Atlantic …

This is the third year in a row that The Atlantic won a Pulitzer for what I consider to be the best stories of the previous year.

In 2021, Ed Yong won in Explanatory Reporting for his work covering the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, last year, staff writer Jennifer Senior won the Feature Writing Pulitzer for her cover story, “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind.” It was a heartbreaking look at a family’s struggle to move on from 9/11.

A bit of a surprise

It was a tad surprising that Politico’s Josh Gerstein, Alexander Ward, Peter S. Canellos, Hailey Fuchs and Heidi Przybyla did not win a Pulitzer. They’re the ones who had the biggest scoop of 2022, publishing the leaked Supreme Court draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade. It was a finalist in the Breaking News Reporting category, but was not selected.

Also a surprise was that no news outlets won for their coverage of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The Austin American-Statesman was a finalist in the big category, Public Service, for its coverage of local law enforcement’s flawed response to the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers. That coverage included a 77-minute video that showed the slow response.

These were both worthy of Pulitzers, but so were the ones that won in these categories. Instead of knocking down a Pulitzer finalist, which is a phenomenal achievement, let’s just celebrate the winners and acknowledge the awesome work of the finalists.

Most impactful

Ukrainian emergency employees and police officers evacuate injured pregnant woman Iryna Kalinina, 32, from a maternity hospital that was damaged by a Russian airstrike in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. The image was part of a series of images by Associated Press photographers that was awarded the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The most impactful journalism I saw in all of 2022 were photographs out of Ukraine.

Lynsey Addario of the New York Times was a finalist in Breaking News Photography for her haunting image: a Ukrainian mother, her two children and a church member lying dead on the street. The four were supposedly in a “safe passage” area but were hit by a mortar shell. Addario’s photo showed the world that Russia was attacking civilians.

So did the photos from the staff of the AP in work that was recognized with the Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography. That included, perhaps, the most lasting and horrific image of the war so far — a pregnant woman, who later died, being carried on a stretcher after the maternity ward where she was hospitalized was attacked by Russian shells.

There was some question at the time whether news outlets should publish such photos. As I wrote at the time and I’ll repeat again here: “I was tempted to say that there is a fine line between news outlets showing the real impact of the violence that is happening in Ukraine and showing too much that it turns viewers off, or desensitizes them. But there is no line. News outlets — with their brave reporters who are literally risking their lives to tell these important stories — must continue to show all it can for as long as this lasts. This story is too important to do it any other way.”

My colleague Annie Aguiar wrote about the AP’s photography from Ukraine. Her story includes the images that won the Pulitzer.

Ukraine coverage

The winner of the biggest prize of all, the Pulitzer for Public Service, went to The Associated Press and journalists Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Lori Hinnant for their coverage during the attack on Mariupol, Ukraine. Pinned down in a besieged city, the journalists were able to show the world the slaughter of civilians during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to the AP’s David Bauder, AP executive editor Julie Pace said during a staff Zoom call, “They served as a counterweight against Russian disinformation, and they helped open up a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol with the power of their work.”

Meanwhile, the staff of The New York Times won an International Reporting Pulitzer for its coverage of the war, including an eight-month investigation into Ukrainian deaths in the town of Bucha.

Read a book

While many, particularly those who read this newsletter, focus on the journalism awards, the Pulitzers also announce winners for Books, Drama and Music.

The New York Times’ Joumana Khatib, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris have a superb breakdown of the 19 books that were recognized as winners or finalists in the book categories of general history, biography, poetry, general nonfiction and fiction.

One of the books had close ties to journalism. “His Name is George Floyd” was written by reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa and won for General Nonfiction. It was based on work they did at the Post. Olorunnipa still works at the Post, while Samuels has moved on to The New Yorker.

A bit of fun

In what might have been the most “fun” award announced Monday, New York Times contributor Mona Chalabi won Illustrated Reporting and Commentary. Her smart and, well, fun piece combined statistical reporting with analysis to understand the enormous wealth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It’s a wonderfully animated and yet completely informative story. Do yourself a favor and click on it.

My colleague Annie Aguiar wrote about Chalabi’s piece, asking “Can you picture a billion dollars? Let alone 172 billion of them?”

Final thought on the Pulitzers … for today

That’s it for today on the Pulitzers, but there are plenty of more stories to tell. I hope I can get to more of them later this week.

Now onto the rest of today’s newsletter …

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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