Reporting about racial justice and the pandemic dominates the Pulitzer Prizes


A protester raises her fist in the air next to a burning police vehicle in Los Angeles, May 30, 2020, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd — one of the Associated Press photos that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.Reporting about policing and social justice issues dominated the Pulitzer Prizes awards on Friday, which were highlighted by a special honor for the teenager who shot video of a Minneapolis police officer murdering George Floyd.

Darnella Frazier’s nine-minute, 44-second cellphone video of Floyd’s last moments sparked protests around the world last summer, and led to the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd by placing his knee and body weight on his neck. The judges in the annual competition, journalism’s most prestigious, recognized Frazier for “courageously” recording the scene as she stood on a nearby sidewalk with other eyewitnesses.

Reporting on another major news story of 2020 — the coronavirus pandemic — was recognized with three Pulitzers as well.

But in a year in which Floyd’s death shook the nation, journalism about that event and related issues of police practices and racial relations drew the most recognition:
The staff of the New York Times won the public service medal for “courageous, prescient and sweeping coverage” of the pandemic that “exposed racial and economic inequities, government failures in the U.S. and beyond,” according to its citation. The pandemic was also reflected in the explanatory category, won by the Atlantic magazine’s Ed Yong, and in the feature photography category, in which Emilio Morenatti of the Associated Press was named the winner for photographs documenting the pandemic’s toll on elderly residents in Spain.

● The staff of the Minneapolis newspaper, the Star-Tribune, received the prize in breaking-news reporting for its “nuanced coverage” of Floyd’s death and the “reverberations” that followed, according to the judges.

● The Marshall Project, Alabama Media Group, the Indianapolis Star and the Invisible Institute were jointly recognized for a year-long investigation of the harm that police dogs inflict on suspects.

● A team of five reporters from Reuters won for an “exhaustive” series on “qualified immunity,” which shields police officers who use excessive force from prosecution.

● Tampa Bay Times reporters Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi were awarded the local reporting Pulitzer for exposing a Florida sheriff who built a secretive intelligence operation.

● The staff of the Associated Press won for breaking news photography for photos from around the country documenting the response to Floyd’s death.

Race-related themes underlay several other commendations: the criticism award went to Wesley Morris of the New York Times (for what the judges described as “unrelentingly relevant and deeply engaged criticism on the intersection of race and culture in America”); the editorial-writing award was won by Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times for essays about policing, bail reform, prisons and mental health in the city’s criminal justice system; the commentary prize was given to Michael Paul Williams of the Times-Dispatch in Richmond for columns about the dismantling of local monuments to Civil War-era figures; and the feature-writing prize went to Mitchell S. Jackson, who wrote in Runner’s World about Ahmaud Arbery — a young Black man in Georgia who was pursued and killed by three White men while out for a run.

The judges said Jackson’s piece “combined vivid writing, thorough reporting and personal experience to shed light on systematic racism in America.”

The Washington Post had two finalists: Lee Hockstader in editorial writing (for editorials about the killing of an unarmed man by U.S. Park Police), and Greg Jaffe in feature writing (for stories about people who lost their jobs after the collapse of Florida’s tourist economy in the pandemic).

But for the first time since 2012, The Post did not win any Pulitzers.

The Pulitzer arts awards echoed some of the same race and social justice themes that dominated the journalism categories.

The winner in general nonfiction was “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” by David Zucchino, which chronicled the little-known history of a white-supremacist coup against an elected multiracial government in North Carolina and a bloody assault on the city’s Black residents.

The drama award went to “The Hot Wing King” by Katori Hall. Ostensibly about a cooking competition, the play explored the meaning of manhood and fatherhood in Black America.

The history-writing Pulitzer was awarded to “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,” by Marcia Chatelain, which told the story of the McDonald’s restaurant chain’s relationship with Black communities and the civil rights movement.

In the biography category, the winner was “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” written by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Les was an editor and columnist at Newsday who died in 2018; his daughter Tamara was his principal researcher and completed the book after his death.

And author Louise Erdrich’s “The Night Watchman” was named in the fiction category. Erdrich’s book focuses on several characters on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. The story was inspired by letters sent by Erdrich’s grandfather in the 1950s to officials in Washington in protest of their violation of a treaty granting land rights to the Chippewa tribe.

The full list of winners:


Special citation: Darnella Frazier (for video of George Floyd’s death).

Public service: The New York Times (for reporting on the coronavirus pandemic).

Breaking news reporting: Staff of the Star Tribune, Minneapolis (for coverage of George Floyd’s death).

Investigative reporting: Matt Rocheleau, Vernal Coleman, Laura Crimaldi, Evan Allen and Brendan McCarthy of the Boston Globe (for stories about state governments’ failure to share information about dangerous truck drivers).

Explanatory reporting: Ed Yong of the Atlantic (for stories about covid and the pandemic), and Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell and Jackie Botts of Reuters (for reporting of “qualified immunity” for abusive police officers).

Local reporting: Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times (for reporting on a local sheriff’s secretive intelligence operation).

National reporting: Staffs of The Marshall Project;, Birmingham; IndyStar, Indianapolis; and the Invisible Institute, Chicago (for an investigation of police K-9 units).

International reporting: Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing and Christo Buschek of BuzzFeed News, New York (for stories about China’s efforts to imprison large numbers of Muslim citizens).

Feature writing: Nadja Drost, freelance contributor, the California Sunday Magazine (for a story about Latin American migrants), and Mitchell S. Jackson, freelance contributor, Runner’s World (for a story about the death of Ahmaud Arbery).

Commentary: Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch (for writing about the removal of some of the city’s monuments to Civil War-era figures).

Criticism: Wesley Morris of the New York Times (for columns about race and culture in America).

Editorial writing: Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times (for columns about on policing, bail reform, prisons and mental health).

Breaking news photography: Photography staff of Associated Press (for photos about reaction to George Floyd’s death).

Feature photography: Emilio Morenatti of Associated Press (for photos documenting covid’s impact on the lives of the elderly in Spain).

Audio reporting: Lisa Hagen, Chris Haxel, Graham Smith and Robert Little of National Public Radio (for a series about gun rights activists).


Fiction: “The Night Watchman,” by Louise Erdrich.

History: “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,” by Marcia Chatelain.

Biography: “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne

Poetry: “Postcolonial Love Poem,” by Natalie Diaz.

General nonfiction: “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” by David Zucchino.

Drama: “The Hot Wing King” by Katori Hall.

Music: “Stride” by Tania León.

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