Prized Journalism: The Pulitzer and Payne Awards

Two major journalism prizes were recently announced and the winners say some interesting things about the state of the profession.

The University of Oregon's Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism went to freelance writer Scott Carney and Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal's deputy bureau chief in the Middle East and Africa. The award recognizes journalists who work "with insight and clarity in the face of political or economic pressures," and this year's winners fit the bill. The judges noted especially Fassihi's coverage of Iran, and one of her thoughtful stories about the country was about the less visible ways the government stifles protest and dissent: by sabotaging protester's academic and professional lives.

Carney's award recognized his Mother Jones story "Meet the Parents," which documents the corruption of the global adoption industry. He focuses on one boy, who was kidnapped from his parents in India and sold to an adoption agency which placed him with a family in the Midwest. But what sets his reporting apart from the herd, in the words of the award's judges, was that Carney "consciously recognized that he was part of the story—in fact, his participation was part of the story." As Carney's reporting proves, reporters are always involved in their subjects in some way, and reporting on this relationship between a journalist and the people with whom they interact can create fruitful new understandings of stories that are often hard to process in more traditional, "objective" formats.

The second big prize announcement this week was of course the Pulitzer. As far as this most established and prestigious of journalistic awards goes, the prizes largely reflected the ongoing demise of smaller newspapers and the ensuing consolidation of reporting capabilities in the hands of major metropolitan papers. The Seattle Times won an award in the breaking local news category, and the paper's position in the community it serves is unfortunately far from unique these days: the Seattle Times' only daily newspaper competitor in the greater Seattle market, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, became an online-only publication around this time last year, leaving Seattle a one-newspaper town. In other categories, the Washington Post won four prizes, in international report, feature writing, criticism and commentary. The New York Times won three, one of which, interestingly, for reporting work conducted in collaboration with the non-profit investigative organization ProPublica.

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