The Pulitzer Prizes are revealed in one fell swoop, winners and finalists alike, 21 separate categories that cover everything from music to history to local news reporting. And many of the winning stories consist of multiple parts. So, if you’re like most of us, yesterday’s announcement of the 2015 prizes suddenly dumped a lot more reading on your nightstand.
Where to start? We’ll try to help with the suggestion of three prize-winning entries that stand out for their storytelling. A caveat, though: don’t let your exploration of this year’s best in journalism stop here. These are just a few highlights among many excellent pieces of work.
The New York Times won the international reporting award for its coverage of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, with a team who, as the newspaper’s nominating letter notes, included a Pulitzer-prize winning physician, a videographer so familiar with the area that he speaks a local tribal dialect and a staff reporter who is Liberian-American and returned to her homeland to write about the outbreak. The entire package is well worth your time but begin with the two videos by Ben Solomon. These taut, stark stories — one about ambulance drivers, the other about patients dying at the hospital door — illustrate the power that sophisticated visual journalism can bring to a complex issue.
Many narrative journalists, of course, turn first to the feature writing prize. This year’s contest was of particular interest because, for the first time, the Pulitzer board allowed the submission of entries from online and print magazines here and in the investigative reporting category. While The New Yorker fielded a finalist in Jennifer Gonnerman’s article about the three-year imprisonment of a teenager at Rikers Island, the winner was Diana Marcum’s intimate, detailed portraits of people affected by the drought in California for The Los Angeles Times. These are quiet stories in the best sense of the word, offering subtle but striking moments like this one, when a struggling store owner is asked for credit by a man buying two packages of hot dog buns and a roll of paper towels:
“Hey, Kenny, OK if I pay for these after Friday?” he asked, lowering his voice.
Alrihimi nodded. But his stomach dropped. This was a man who had never asked for credit before.
The store owner had 29 receipts that constituted the week’s IOUs. On the backs of two torn-up cigarette cartons, he wrote the running accounts: the ones where they owed $34, paid $12, then charged $8.
“It’s too sad to say no. I think of their kids,” said Alrihimi, a father of five. “They don’t have any money. I don’t have any money. We’re all trying to get through, little-by-little-bit.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for its coverage of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., but the images are anything but fleeting. Some, like the photograph of a young man tossing back a tear gas canister, have already etched themselves into our collective memory of the events; none shy away from the raw emotions and uncomfortable aspects of this story, including one photo that portrays a gun-toting looter. It’s clear from the depth and range of the work that, as the newspaper’s director of photography told The New York Times photo blog, “The staff are experts at St. Louis.”
Again, this is just an introduction to a collection of remarkable journalism, both winners and finalists. So when you’ve finished these, move on to the Post and Courier’s stunning series on deaths from domestic violence in South Carolina, which won the medal for public service, and keep going from there.