Pulitzer Prize 2021: reporting on Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter movement recognised in journalism awards

The annual ceremony, which awards the most prestigious honours in journalism, took place online on Friday

Star Tribune Editor Rene Sanchez, fourth row, fourth from left, addresses the news staff, which won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for the coverage of the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing civil unrest in Minneapolis, Friday, June 11, 2021. (Cheryl Diaz Meyer/Star Tribune via AP)
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Reuters and the Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune each won a Pulitzer Prize on Friday for journalism about racial inequities in US policing, while The New York Times and The Atlantic were honoured for chronicling the Covid-19 pandemic, the two topics that dominated last year's headlines.

The Star Tribune won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for what the board called its "urgent, authoritative and nuanced" coverage of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police last May, while Reuters and The Atlantic shared the award for explanatory reporting.

The Pulitzer Prizes are the most prestigious awards in American journalism and have been handed out since 1917, when newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer established them in a bequest to New York's Columbia University in his will.

Wesley Morris, right, critic-at-large, is congratulated by colleagues after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in the newsroom at The New York Times headquarters in New York, on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Damon Winter/The New York Times via AP)

In 2020, "the nation's news organisations faced the complexity of sequentially covering a global pandemic, a racial reckoning and a bitterly contested presidential election", Mindy Marques, co-chair of the Pulitzer Board, said at the announcement ceremony, which was broadcast online.

The board cited Reuters reporters Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell and Jackie Botts for the "pioneering data analysis" of their Shielded series, which showed how an obscure legal doctrine of 'qualified immunity' shielded police who use excessive force from prosecution.

Reuters editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni said the series shaped the debate over how to reform American policing.

"In a year of tumultuous protest over police killings of Black Americans, Shielded was a work of tremendous moral force about the intractable problem facing the world's most powerful democracy, the legacy of racial injustice," she said.

The Pulitzer Prize for Reuters, a unit of Thomson Reuters, was the newsroom's ninth since 2008, and sixth in the past four years.

The Reuters team shared the explanatory reporting award with The Atlantic's Ed Yong, who was praised by the board for "a series of lucid, definitive pieces on the Covid-19 pandemic".

Associated Press photographer Ringo H.W. Chiu celebrates after learning he won the Pulitzer Prize via video conferencing from his home in Los Angeles Friday, June 11, 2021. Chiu is one of ten AP photographers who won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Many of the 2021 Pulitzer Prizes went for coverage of policing and the global protest movement that erupted after Floyd's murder: the Associated Press won the breaking news photography award for its images of the protests, while Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times won for editorial writing for his work on bail reform and prisons.

The board also said it was awarding a "special citation" to Darnella Frazier, the teenaged bystander who recorded video of Floyd's murder on her phone, which it said highlighted "the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice."

The New York Times won the public service journalism honour, often seen as the most coveted of the 22 prizes, for its "prescient and sweeping coverage of the coronavirus pandemic." The Boston Globe won for investigative reporting for uncovering a systematic failure by state governments to share information about dangerous truck drivers that could have kept them off the road.

Friday's announcement of the prizes, most worth $15,000 each, had been postponed from April amid the pandemic. The awards luncheon, which normally takes place soon after at Columbia University, has been postponed until autumn.

The Pulitzer Board also recognises achievements in seven categories in the arts, and awarded its fiction prize to Louise Erdrich for her novel The Night Watchman about an effort to displace Native American tribes in the 1950s.