Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Some Pulitzer finalists' work had rural resonance: FEMA's failings, foster kids' benefits, dirty sugar-cane harvest . . .

The Joseph Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public
Service went to The Washington Post for
its coverage of the assault on the Capitol.
None of the winners of Pulitzer Prizes in journalism yesterday had much rural resonance, but several finalists did, and the calls in such cases are usually close.

Both of the announced runner-ups in the National Reporting competition had rural elements. The Washington Post was named a finalist "for a sweeping series on environmental racism, illuminating how American communities of color have disproportionately suffered for decades from dirty air, polluted water and lax or nonexistent environmental protection," the judges said.

The other finalists in National Reporting were Eli Hager of The Marshall Project and National Public Radio "for powerful reporting that exposed how local government agencies throughout America quietly pocketed Social Security benefits intended for children in foster care." State agencies are involved, too, and the project has a listing that could lead to local stories. Check it out.

A finalist in Investigative Reporting was the work of Hannah Dreier and Andrew Ba Tran of The Washington Post for a series revealing how the Federal Emergency Management Agency "fails American disaster survivors by not confronting structural racism or climate change, prompting policy overhauls." The reporters wrote, "The vast majority of the money is caught up in delays that leave poor, rural and non-white towns and cities waiting years to get started on urgently needed work."

A finalist in Local Reporting was the entry of Lulu Ramadan of The Palm Beach Post and Ash Ngu, Maya Miller and Nadia Sussman of ProPublica "for a comprehensive investigation, including interactives and graphics, that revealed dangerous air quality during Florida’s sugar cane harvest season and prompted significant reforms."

This one isn't rural, but it's about journalism. A finalist in Editorial Writing was the Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate "for editorials demanding transparency and accountability on behalf of the people of Louisiana when an investigative reporter was sued by the state’s attorney general for making a public records request."

This one is from an exurb of Fort Worth, but is an example of fights that are going on in rural and suburban school districts. A finalist in Audio Reporting was the work of Mike Hixenbaugh, Antonia Hylton, Frannie Kelley, Reid Cherlin and Julie Shapiro of NBC News "for 'Southlake,' a riveting and insightful account of an anti-Critical Race Theory movement in a Texas community, a phenomenon that has reverberated through school districts across the country."

A finalist in Feature Writing was the entry of Meirba Knight of Nashville's WLPN and Ken Armstrong of Pro Publica "for their enterprising and empathetic account of 11 Black children in Tennessee who were arrested for a crime that doesn’t exist." This was in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, part of the Nashville metropolitan area, but perhaps reflected a traditional bias toward black youth seen in much of the rural South. The judge involved is not seeking re-election.

And what to make of so many finalists from broadcasting, as well as the online ProPublica and the advocacy-oriented Marshall Project, in a contest whose century-old gold medal for public service says it's for newspapers (though it's actually open to all "news sites")? Are papers producing less Pulitzer-worthy journalism? Or are these outlets attracting the sort of reporters and editors who once thought only of working at newspapers? One year does not a trend make; let's keep watching. --Al Cross, director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

UPDATE, May 12: Roy Peter Clark of The Poynter Institute, who likes short leads on stories, couldn't find one among the winners, but has some picks, and his favorite is the one on the winner of the Investigative Reporting prize: "Inside Florida’s only lead smelter, poisons abound." Clark writes, "It’s unusual to have the subject and verb of a lead sentence at the end, but it works here. Words at the end of a sentence or paragraph get special attention. “Smelter” is an unusual word that introduces a dangerous work environment. 'Abound' feels literary, but not in a showy sort of way. Since the whole project is about lead poisons, it makes sense to get both those words in the first seven."

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