Student journalists from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, site of the tragic mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students, teachers and coaches a year ago February, attended one of journalism’s most prestigious awards ceremonies Tuesday, a luncheon at New York’s Columbia University honoring winners of the Pulitzer Prizes.
The students’ presence set an emotional tone at the awards luncheon whose honorees included the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which earned a Pulitzer in the “public service” category for exposing failings by the school and local law enforcement ahead of and after the Parkland shooting.
Sun Sentinel editor-in-chief Julie Edwards told Parkland students during the luncheon that, “We did this for you guys.”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Rebecca Schneid, 17, who is co-editor-in-chief of the school’s Eagle Eye student publication, told USA TODAY that, “Obviously the work that we did after the shooting was the hardest thing that we ever had to do but it was also the most important thing that we’ve ever done and that I’ve ever done as a student journalist.”
Schneid said that the reason the Parkland students wanted to attend the Pulitzer ceremony was to “show that student journalism has a place in society and that it deserves to be recognized if it’s exemplary. Whether you’ve gone through something as traumatic as we have or you are just in a student journalism program that’s working really hard to make an impact in your community you deserve to be recognized for that and you shouldn’t be held back by your age….No matter what we do we always are very aware of the fact that we are here in memory of the people that we’ve lost.”
The staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was also recognized, for its “breaking news” coverage of yet another unthinkable act, the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
And a special Pulitzer citation was given to the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where last June a shooter murdered five employees, the largest killing of U.S. journalists in their newsroom in history. The Pulitzer Board citation came with a $100,000 bequest to be used to further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.
Also in attendance at the luncheon were two journalists from Reuters who were only recently released in Myanmar after being jailed there for more than 500 days. The Pulitzer winners, Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo, had been imprisoned for exposing the systematic mass killing of Muslims in the country. Reuters maintained their innocence throughout the ordeal while calling for the men’s release.
Among other winners:
Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times, took the top investigative reporting prize for their coverage of a University of Southern California gynecologist accused of violating hundreds of young women over more than 25 years.
Hannah Dreier of ProPublica was honored in the feature writing category for what the Pulitzer committee wrote was “for a series of powerful, intimate narratives that followed Salvadoran immigrants on New York’s Long Island whose lives were shattered by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.”
Local reporting honors went to the staff of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for their “damning portrayal of the state’s discriminatory conviction system, including a Jim Crow-era law, that enabled Louisiana courts to send defendants to jail without jury consensus on the accused’s guilt.”
Coverage of President Trump led to separate reporting honors (and some the biggest cheers among the journalists attending the luncheon): David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner of the New York Times won for an 18-month investigation of the President’s finances that debunked his claims of self-made wealth.
And the staff of the Wall Street Journal was recognized for uncovering payments then candidate Trump made to two women who claimed to have an affair with him.
The late singer Aretha Franklin also received a Pulitzer citation, highlighted by a moving performance in her honor by Jennifer Hudson.
This the 103rd year of the Pulitzer Prizes, which are issued for achievements in print, online and multimedia journalism, as well as in literature and the arts.
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