2019 Pulitzer Prizes Turn The Spotlight On Some Dangers Journalists Face

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Originally published on April 15, 2019 6:39 pm
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The 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced in New York today. They award achievements in journalism and in the Arts and Letters. As NPR's Andrew Limbong reports this year's awards turn the spotlight on some of the dangers journalists around the world faced.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Dana Canedy, the administrator of the prizes, broke with tradition this year by opening the awards with a special recognition for the Eagle Eye. That's the school newspaper for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which submitted the obituaries for 17 people who were killed during the shooting at the school.

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DANA CANEDY: These budding journalists remind us of the media's unwavering commitment to bearing witness, even in the most wrenching of circumstances, in service to a nation whose very existence depends on a free and dedicated press.

LIMBONG: The most wrenching of circumstances affected many of the newsrooms named, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which won a public service award for its coverage of the Parkland shooting. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won for its breaking news coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in that city. And a special citation was given to the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

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CANEDY: 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.

LIMBONG: The New York Times was given an award for explanatory reporting for its work digging into the finances of President Donald Trump and his father, Fred. Here's Times writer David Barstow.

DAVID BARSTOW: Central to Donald Trump's narrative is that I am a self-made billionaire. And I know people have been skeptical about that for a long time. But what we were able to do with this body of work was we were able to document nearly 300 specific revenue streams that Fred Trump created specifically for the benefit of Donald Trump over his lifetime. Our story, in effect, rewrites the financial biography of our 45th president.

LIMBONG: As far as local reporting goes, The Advocate out of Baton Rouge, La., was awarded a Pulitzer for tracing a law back to 1890s during Jim Crow that allows non-unanimous juries to convict, including life sentences.

GORDON RUSSELL: And the idea seems to be that if one or two black people managed to get on a jury, they could still be ignored.

LIMBONG: Gordon Russell is the managing editor for investigations at The Advocate. He says that the law has serious implications for today.

RUSSELL: We found that 40 percent of the verdicts that ended in conviction were non-unanimous.

LIMBONG: Some of the winners in Arts and Letters also spoke to serious subjects. Richard Powers won the Fiction Prize for his novel, "The Overstory," which is about a group of people trying to save trees on the verge of destruction. He told NPR last year that he was looking to foster a reverence for the environment.

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RICHARD POWERS: What a tree can do to transform the atmosphere to transform the soil is absolutely part of the story of humans trying to give to these huge, ancient, incredibly diverse and incredibly supple creatures the same kind of sanctity that we reserve exclusively for ourselves.

LIMBONG: Forrest Gander was awarded the Poetry Prize for "Be With," a collection grappling with loss and grief. Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury won the Drama Prize for her play, "Fairview," which on its face is about a black family planning a birthday party, but as she told the Berkeley Repertory Theatre last year, is, in practice, about surveillance.

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JACKIE SIBBLIES DRURY: Thinking about why surveillance feels more dangerous to people of color because of, like, the implicit bias around the people that are actually doing the surveilling.

LIMBONG: But the prizes this year were not just about the tragedies and hardships of the world around us, but giving due to the people who faced them and created joy, as noted by another special citation being given to the late Aretha Franklin. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

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