It’s fashionable to argue that newspapers are dead, or at least rapidly dying. But this week’s unveiling of the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes is a heartening reminder of journalism’s strength in America today – and of the essential role journalists play.
Newspapers and journalists of all kinds perhaps have never been under such duress. From changing business models. From a polarized body politic. From the president of the United States and other politicians of both parties who would rather operate in the dark.
Those pressures are real. But they should not obscure the fact that every day, across the nation, thousands of reporters, editors and visual journalists are asking questions, breaking news, investigating public and private officials, explaining their country or community, and telling compelling stories.
Today, we celebrate with the Pulitzer Prize judges these soldiers who fight for an informed public, occasionally even at great risk to themselves.
[Last week], Pulitzer administrators announced the winners in 14 journalism categories (as well as seven categories of letters, drama and music). Together with the finalists, they produced work that held politicians accountable, fought secrecy in state government, stood up for victims of sexual harassment and assault, raised awareness of the opioid epidemic, helped residents survive insatiable wildfires and looked out for the powerless.
The Pulitzer board recognized national powers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, but not only them.
The Cincinnati Enquirer won in local reporting for its documentation of 7 days of that city’s
heroin epidemic, which is destroying families. The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, was recognized for its live coverage of wildfires that killed dozens and destroyed thousands of homes.
The Kansas City Star was a finalist in the most prestigious category, public service, for its series “Why so secret, Kansas?” that revealed a widespread obsession with secrecy throughout state government.
The Miami Herald was a finalist in investigative reporting for probing serious flaws in Florida’s juvenile justice system. The other investigative finalist was Tim Eberly, a reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, who revealed abuses in that state’s parole board system.
(The Charlotte Observer has won five Pulitzers over the years, including editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers in 2014, and has been a finalist several other times.)
In 1904, Joseph Pulitzer said, “Our republic and its press will rise or fall together.”
That truth isn’t as obvious to some folks these days. A “fake news” label can be applied to anything anyone doesn’t like. Some partisans take glee in seeing a news outlet make a mistake. And the consumer shift to digital platforms has chipped away at print advertising revenue, resulting in smaller staffs and newsprint.
As the country becomes more polarized and news sources proliferate, it is more important than ever to support trusted news sources beholden to no one. We need determined, courageous reporters to dig into complicated matters, get the truth and inform the public.
This year’s Pulitzer winners remind us that despite the hurricane winds buffeting the industry, that work is being done, and done well.