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America’s mass shooting problem surfaces in Pulitzer Prize awards

Reporting on shootings in Parkland, Pittsburgh, and Annapolis received Pulitzer Prize honors this year.

A woman lays flowers outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2019.
A woman lays flowers outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2019.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

The list of 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners draws attention to a disturbing reality: the frequency of mass shootings in the United States.

Reporters and outlets that covered mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, were honored at Monday’s ceremony in New York City with one of the most prestigious awards for journalistic and artistic achievement.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer in public service for its coverage of the February 2018 Parkland shooting and its aftermath. Its coverage included an in-depth look at failures by the local sheriff’s office and school officials — failures that ultimately led to a tragedy in which 17 people were killed.

At the outset of the announcement event, Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy also honored the staff of the Eagle Eye student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman, who submitted the obituaries of the victims of the shooting. Canedy said that while the entry did not win, it “should give us all hope for the future of journalism in this great democracy.”

In breaking news reporting, the Pulitzer went to the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its “immersive, compassionate coverage” of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018, in which 11 people were killed.

And the Capital Gazette was awarded a 2019 Pulitzer Prize special citation. A gunman opened fire at its offices in June 2018, killing five. The committee awarded the journalists, staff, and editorial board of the newspaper for their “courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in US history.” The board also gave the Capital Gazette $100,000 to “further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.”

The awards may be an indication that media coverage of mass shootings is improving in some ways — but more important, they are a jarring reminder of just how common shootings are in the United States.

As Vox’s German Lopez laid out, there was nearly one mass shooting a day in the United States in the year following the Parkland shooting. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, there have been about 2,000 mass shootings in the US.

We’ve become accustomed to a horrific, yet familiar, cycle: a mass shooting takes place, the debate about America’s gun problem bubbles up, and after a while, it fades. The Parkland students and March for Our Lives have managed to keep some more attention on the matter, but the pace of progress is incredibly slow.

And so, of 15 journalism honors given out at the 2019 Pulitzers — the 14 categories and the special citations — one-fifth went to outlets covering mass shootings in the US.

Coverage of Trump and the migrant crisis also get honors

Pulitzers can sometimes highlight a year’s zeitgeist and the topics we care about most. In 2018, for example, coverage related to the #MeToo movement was front and center. This year was no different: In addition to coverage of mass shootings, other themes emerged in the 2019 awards as well.

Reporting on President Donald Trump and the various scandals and accusations of corruption that have dogged him also received recognition. David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner of the New York Times received the honor for explanatory reporting for their story on Trump’s wealth and the tax schemes he and his family engaged in to build their riches. The staff of the Wall Street Journal received the award for national reporting for its work in following Trump’s hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with him ahead of the 2016 election.

And Darrin Bell, a freelance cartoonist, was awarded for his work taking on issues “affecting disenfranchised communities, calling out lies, hypocrisy and fraud in the political turmoil surrounding the Trump administration.”

Reporters for the Associated Press received the 2019 international Pulitzer for their coverage of the war in Yemen; Lorenzo Tugnoli of the Washington Post was awarded the feature photography prize for his photography of the famine in Yemen.

Migrants and immigrants to the US were also covered in the reporting awarded in 2019. Hannah Dreier of ProPublica received the prize for feature writing for three articles she wrote for the publication’s “Trapped in Gangland” series about how the Trump administration’s crackdown on the MS-13 gang has harmed an immigrant community on Long Island, New York. And Reuters’s photography staff was awarded the Pulitzer for breaking news photography for its coverage of Central and South American migrants journeying to the US.

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