When the news website AL.com was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting on Monday afternoon New York time, the approximately 75 employees in Birmingham, Alabama, must have been very happy. In a series of articles, a team of reporters revealed how police in the neighboring town of Brookside deliberately ambushed residents in order to increase revenue from fines. As a result, the local police chief had to resign, and four new laws to protect citizens were passed. This would not have happened without this kind of persistent local journalism.
The way the winners of the annual Pulitzer Prizes, the highest honor in US journalism, are announced is almost comically unspectacular. This year, philosophy professor emeritus Marjorie Miller read the names of nominees and winners in 15 journalism categories and eight arts categories in a live video. There was no audience in the room, and Miller delivered it all as politely and emotionlessly as if she were reading from a phone book.
It was all over in 30 minutes, and it could have been even quicker if, before the reading, two members of the awards committee had not addressed some unctuous words to the audience, who in turn were almost certainly 100 percent native of the United States work in the industry. There must have been little dissent among these when, in the opening speeches, they heard journalism is not optional in a democracy, but indispensable. On the one hand, something like this is always, really always said at such events. On the other hand, it cannot be said often enough.
This time, on a national level, the Alabama site doesn’t stand a chance. Or is it?
After a while, Miller got to the comment category in her reading, and you can imagine the AL.com newsroom buzzing when the site was back among the three nominees. To reiterate, this is a company of 75 people in total, which includes the social media staff, producers and video team. However: They were also nominated Washington Post and the magazine TheAtlantic, two heavyweights. This time, on a national level, the Alabama site doesn’t stand a chance. Or is it?
“The winner is AL.com’s Kyle Whitmire,” Miller read in her phone-book style, “for thoughtful and compelling columns documenting how Alabama’s Confederate-era legacy continues to shape the present day, with racism and exclusion. “
That’s the big news from the 107th Pulitzer Prizes: there’s no publication that has won more awards than AL.com. The series winners from the New York Times also received two awards, as did the Associated Press (AP) news agency and the Los Angeles Times. That the New York Times and AP are among the winners, which was expected because both organizations are in the coverage of do outstanding work on the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.
AP was recognized in what is probably the most prestigious category, “Public Service”. Journalists Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Lori Hinnant were named for their reports from Mariupol, where they stayed as the incessant Russian attacks left the city in ruins. The second Pulitzer Prize for AP went to the agency’s photographers, who document the horror of the war in Ukraine.
The New York Times was honored in the “International Reporting” category, in particular for comprehensive research into the murders of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops in the city of Bucha. The jury also awarded a prize to the data journalist Mona Chalabi. She has been in a series of illustrations for the NYTimes made clear how rich Amazon founder Jeff Bezos actually is and what influence he can have on the course of the world.
Like AL.com, so has the LA Times honored for excellent work locally. The paper received first prize for publishing recordings of conversations between city officials who had made racist comments. It won the second for a work by photographer Christina House, who spent months following a 22-year-old pregnant woman living in a tent on the streets of Los Angeles.
That the New York Times Winning Pulitzer Prizes is the norm. For websites like AL.com to be honored in this way, probably not. Although the site has already won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 and 2021, showing that excellent local journalism is not only important for the respective region, but is also recognized, at least institutionally, nationwide.
The Washington Post According to (this year: a Pulitzer Prize for “Feature Writing”), more than 2,200 local newspapers in the US have closed since 2005. Today there are huge, newspaper-free areas in the middle of the country. The awards for AL.com can therefore be understood by the Pulitzer jury, apart from the outstanding work of the AL editorial team, as an encouragement and call not to give up local journalism for heaven’s sake.