Polk Awards Honor Pandemic Reporters
Journalism on the coronavirus pandemic dominated the George Polk Awards, with nearly half the prizes in recognition of work by print, digital and television reporters who sounded warnings early in the year and later tracked the devastating effects on large swaths of society and those who suffered personally as the death count rose.
Long Island University, the institutional home of the Polk Awards, announced the 18 winners of the prestigious journalism honors on Wednesday in a news release and on a videoconference.
“We have never seen a story on the scale of the pandemic,” John Darnton, a former New York Times journalist who has been the curator of the awards for more than a decade, said in a statement. “In large part it fell to the press to inform the public about it and the press performed admirably.”
The Washington Post won four awards, the most of any news organization. One of its prizes came in a new category — oral history — for Eli Saslow’s “Voices From the Pandemic,” a collection of personal accounts from a variety of people affected by Covid-19.
The Polk Awards also recognized The Post in justice reporting for “George Floyd’s America,” a six-part series by a team of seven bylined reporters that documented the life, community and experiences of Mr. Floyd, a Black man who was killed in May by the Minneapolis police, a death that touched off protests nationwide.
The Post's other wins came in the categories of political reporting, for profiles by Stephanie McCrummen of a voter and two politicians in Georgia, and state reporting, for a series by Ian Shapira on racism at the state-funded Virginia Military Institute. The honors came days before the retirement of the paper’s top editor, Martin Baron, who has led the paper since 2013 and announced his retirement last month.
Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire of The New York Times won the financial reporting award for shining a light on former President Donald J. Trump’s hidden financial history. Their digging and analysis laid out years of tax avoidance, showing that he had paid $0 in income tax in 11 of 18 years they examined and $750 in each of 2016 and 2017.
The public service prize went to Helen Branswell, an infectious-disease reporter for the six-year-old health and medical news site Stat. Ms. Branswell’s first article on what she initially described as “a new virus, and perhaps even a new coronavirus” was published Jan. 4, 2020. For the year, she wrote 161 articles on the subject, according to a statement announcing her award, reporting on the virus itself, its devastation and the vaccines that could put an end to it.
Ed Yong of The Atlantic won in the science reporting category for his pandemic coverage. He predicted its destructive path through the United States in a detailed March report and analyzed its ravages in an August follow-up article.
Three CNN journalists — the reporter David Culver, the producer Yong Xiong and the photographer Natalie Thomas — received the foreign reporting award for work on the virus’s initial strike in Wuhan, China.
The award for magazine reporting recognized Katie Engelhart for an August article in California Sunday Magazine about the Kirkland, Wash., nursing home that was the site of the first deadly Covid-19 outbreak on American soil. In October, California Sunday Magazine suspended publication.
Two awards went to reporters who revealed failures in the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Dan Diamond of Politico won in health reporting for several articles, including stories on the Trump administration’s attempts to cut back on testing and meddle with the Centers for Disease Control. And Matthias Gafni, Joe Garofoli and Tal Kopan of The San Francisco Chronicle won the military reporting prize for work that included a scoop on the Navy’s punishment of the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, who sought to evacuate nearly 5,000 sailors to protect them from an outbreak.
A special prize was given posthumously to Regina Martínez, of the Mexico City magazine Proceso, and to the investigative-journalism collective Forbidden Stories, which reported last year that authorities had stymied an investigation into Ms. Martínez’s death in 2012 while she was reporting on disappeared persons in the state of Veracruz.
Several other awards honored work that described racism in the United States and a summer of protests. The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson won the national reporting award for three articles that portrayed Black Lives Matters activists in Minneapolis, militia members in Michigan and activists on the left and the right in Portland, Ore. The television reporting award went to Roberto Ferdman of the Vice Media show “Vice News Tonight” and his crew for their coverage of the Louisville nurse Breonna Taylor, a Black woman whose death at the hands of police this year galvanized protesters across the country.
ProPublica won the health reporting award for a pair of series on communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic: meatpacking workers and Black Americans. The staff of The Minneapolis Star Tribune took the local reporting award for its coverage of Mr. Floyd’s death and its aftermath.
Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone of High Country News, a magazine based in Paonia, Colo., won the education reporting award for a series, two years in the making, on 11 million acres of land seized from Native Americans by the federal government and made into campuses for 52 land-grant universities across the country.
Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News won in the business reporting category for articles on Facebook’s role in circulating disinformation. In their work they showed that the platform declined to remove a call for militia members to show up armed to a protest against police violence in June in Kenosha, Wis., a demonstration where two protesters were killed.
The Polk Awards are named in honor of George Polk, a CBS News correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war. Instead of the usual springtime luncheon, winners of this year’s awards will record acceptance remarks, and Ms. Branswell, Mr. Culver and Mr. Yong will speak at an online panel, “The Press & the Pandemic,” in April.
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