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The best in journalism

April 12, 2010

Today, the winners and nominees of the 2010 Pulitzer Prices were announced, and they include some of the best, most powerful reporting done over the last year. For me, a couple of things had special significance.

As Mark Lucie points out on 1,000 words, some of the Pulitzer winners this year used great multimedia parts to tell their story. It’s great to see the Pulitzer jury honor those efforts.

Obviously, there’s a special place for International Reporting in my heart, a category in which Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post won this year’s award for his coverage of the Iraq war.

A rich multimedia feature is honored in Photography category

Craig F. Walker of the Denver Post has produced an incredibly insightful multimedia-story about a young man enlisting in the Army, going through basic training and deployment to Iraq, and how these experiences impact him over the course of more than two years. Walker tells the story in amazing pictures, winning him the Pulitzer for Feature Photography. On the Denver Post Web site, more multimedia is included in a visually compelling presentation.

Walker followed this young soldier, Ian Fisher, from Colorado to Iraq, producing a complex picture of this young man as he stands for many who are fighting America’s two wars (three fellow reporters worked on the parts of the print piece. Only Walker, though, met Fisher at very step of his way.)

Many of us have seen Pulitzer-winning pictures, sometimes without knowing they won the prestigious price, simply because these images are so iconic (the girl running from Napalm in Vietnam, a starving child crouched in Sudan, or firefighters raising an American flag over the debris of the World Trade Center.)

A friend and I visited the Newseum here in Washington just this weekend, where a part of the exhibit shows every Pulitzer Price-winning photograph. These pictures are incredible, they chronicle the last century and connect us with those pictured. I’m in awe of the photographers, their skill and determination. In a video played in the exhibit, one of the photographers said “It’s an honor to be a journalist,” and it really is. Those are the photos and the stories that touch people’s hearts.

Investigative reporting price for ProPublica

In the investigative reporting category, there were two winners. One of them was Sheri Fink of ProPublica, a non-profit organization for her piece detailing “The Deadly Choices” doctors and hospital staff made at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during the days after Hurricane Katrina. Fink’s work is shocking and powerful. Instead of pointing toward a judgment as to whether what the nurses and doctors did was “right” or “wrong,” she leaves the reader with questions and uncertainty.

Fink includes graphics of the hospital building that give a sense of the layout and situation at the hospital. But it is really her incredible depth of reporting and beautiful writing that makes this story to powerful. She obtained court documents, interviewed hospital staff and witnesses, and thus manages to reconstruct the scene of these chaotic days after Katrina swept New Orleans. She brings us close to the people involved and opens up the question of “what would you have done?”

It’s also notable that with ProPublica, a non-traditional journalist organization has won one of journalism’s most prestigious awards (ProPublica was also nominated for a piece exposing “gaps in California’s oversight of dangerous and incompetent nurses” in the Public Service category). ProPublica is a non-profit organization funded by philanthropic organizations to produce “investigative journalism in the public interest.”

Pulitzer validation for non-profit model

In times of strained newsroom budgets and a changing business model (or rather, a disappearing business model that media organizations have not been able to reinvent in the world of the Web), many news organizations have cut investigative reporting posts. This kind of reporting takes months, sometimes years – Fink, it appears, has worked on her story for at least a year. It requires resources and the willingness to stand behind a reporter in case of legal challenges.

ProPublica provides the investigative pieces it reports to news outlets for free. The organization explains that

Many of our “deep dive” stories are offered exclusively to a traditional news organization, free of charge, for publication or broadcast. We published 138 such stories in 2009 with 38 different partners.

Many journalists seem to be skeptic toward the non-profit model, often with the argument that a non-profit work environment doesn’t lend itself to the hard-hitting newsroom atmosphere they’re used to. ProPublica’s model, at least, appears to be successful – certainly in producing awe-inspiring stories.

For a full list of winners go to Pulitzer.org.

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From → Media

One Comment
  1. mike permalink

    Good to see you posting again. Good work.

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