Pulitzers celebrate powerful journalism in an era when it matters most

The Storm Lake Times, a 3,000-circulation newspaper in Iowa, wrote editorials challenging the state’s powerful agricultural interests that were secretly funding a government defense against an environmental lawsuit.

In the heart of the country’s opioid crisis, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia exposed how drug wholesalers flooded the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over six years, the same time frame in which 1,728 people overdosed on the painkillers.

And the staff of The Salt Lake Tribune took on one of Utah’s most powerful institutions, revealing the “punitive and cruel treatments given to sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University.”

Monday afternoon in New York City last week, we gathered at the Pulitzer Prize luncheon to celebrate this year’s honorees.

In this moment of fake news, alternative facts and full-on attacks on the press, the prizes highlight the courageous and penetrating journalism produced by organizations of all sizes, from The New York Times down to the family-owned paper in Iowa.

The prizes also exemplify the powerful impact of a single dogged reporter, such as the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, whose tenacious political campaign coverage peeled back the layers of President Donald Trump’s charitable contributions.

And they highlight the growing power of partnerships, from the Pulitzer for public service shared by the New York Daily News and ProPublica, to the unprecedented, cross-continental collective that produced the Panama Papers. More than 300 news organizations spent a year sifting through the 11.5 million records leaked from the Panama-based global law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The Miami Herald, its parent company, McClatchy, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists received the prize for Explanatory Reporting for their work on the Panama Papers.

The international investigation revealed a financial system of tax havens preferred by tax dodgers, corrupt politicians and drug dealers and prompted political resignations — including from the prime minister of Iceland — lawsuits, tax investigations and regulatory reform.

Among the cited work was reporting by Miami Herald investigative reporter Nicholas Nehamas and Latin America correspondent Jim Wyss, who were edited by Investigative Editor Casey Frank. Also included are Kevin Hall and Tim Johnson of the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

But at the Miami Herald alone, broader coverage included contributions by Caribbean Correspondent Jacqueline Charles, reporter Kyra Gurney, el Nuevo Cuba reporter Nora Gámez Torres and data visualization editor Kara Dapena. Miami-based Fusion was also among the U.S. partners.

“The Panama Papers showed that journalists can have a huge impact when they work together, even if they live in different countries, speak different languages and work for different newsrooms,” said Nehamas, 28.

Miami Herald editorial cartoonist Jim Morin joined a small class of two-time winners, accepting his second Pulitzer for editorial cartooning 21 years after his first award. He was cited “for editorial cartoons that delivered sharp perspectives through flawless artistry, biting prose and crisp wit.”

“This Pulitzer was truly special because it comes toward the end of my career, Morin said. “I’m my own worst critic and I’ve always focused on growing and improving my drawings. I took this award as a reaffirmation that I’ve somewhat succeeded.”

The Miami Herald has a long and proud tradition of producing the caliber of work that every now and then gets a Pulitzer nod. It is a tradition we guard doggedly. This year’s awards bring to 22 the total of Pulitzer Prizes we have won since our first in 1951.

The Pulitzers represent the highest standards of journalism excellence in the country and we are grateful for the recognition by our peers. But the real reward is the impact of the work we do.

Said Frank: “It means we are keeping the faith and upholding the investigative traditions of the Miami Herald, despite some strong headwinds.”

It’s why we do what we do.