Editors reflect on favorite Pulitzer Prize Winners

Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday, with awards doled out for topics from the reporting that sparked the MeToo movement, to non-fiction writing that examined the contemporary criminal justice system. Here’s a few of our favorites from the list of stellar reporting and emotionally-charged work.

Breaking News Photography: Ryan Kelly of The Daily Progress | Amanda Gonzalez & Joey Hadden

Red sneakers on the man hit by the car, red tail lights that shouldn’t be in a crowd, a red fist on a protestor’s poster. The reds highlight the disruption frozen just before blood stained concrete at the “Unite the Right” rally.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning breaking news photo shows the moment of impact in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017 within a large group of counter protestors. The white nationalist protest where James Alex Fields, Jr. drove a car into a crowd was a pivotal moment in contemporary America, killing one and wounding 16.  

The photographer is 31-year-old Ryan Kelly, who at the time was on his final assignment for The Daily Progress of Charlottesville before pursuing freelance work.

With a shallow depth of field, Kelly focused on the man being hit, the people on top of the car and random objects in the air and on the ground. These elements encompass absolute chaos.

The man out of focus in the foreground of the image represents Kelly’s choice to frame the photo straight on, rather than side stepping to remove the man from the foreground of his capture. This choice brings the viewer into the foreground because the imperfection of the view appears more honest.

Out of context, this photo doesn’t look like an action shot from a film — it looks like true life. This is the unfortunate true life that is becoming all too common. And this is the type of shot photojournalists and media members risk their lives to share with the world.

Editorial Cartooning by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, The New York Times | Andrea Guzman

The day after the 2016 election, I attended a rally in downtown Austin. It was a dreary day and there was a slight drizzle that accompanied yells of expletives by Trump supporters on the sidewalk. Even though I felt a little on edge going about Austin in the weeks that followed, it wasn’t to the degree the Syrian family in this editorial cartoon series felt.

Halpern and Sloan followed offsetting moments brothers Jamil and Ammar and their family face after obtaining a visa to move to the U.S. This true comic isn’t just illustrations, it justifies the spike of worries many minorities have felt since Trump began his campaign. Read all the way through, the cartoon is capable of inducing the same urgency to want to do something, anything to ease the damage of the war in Syria. The same urgency felt after one glance at the image of Omran Daqneesh, a young Syrian boy who was sat with a sheet of dust and blood on his face.

The series perfectly captures the zeitgeist after Trump’s victory; the feeling of genuine fear that some might feel righteous acting on their prejudices. It involved extensive reporting, as Halpern went with the family to their mosques, schools and job-training programs.

Among the most jarring moments this series depicts, are the family’s discussion about moving to Canada and a death threat over the phone. The family’s story ends once they reach the point of no return, a point in time that truly cements their decision to move to America– and why they cannot return to Syria anytime soon.

Music: Damn., by Kendrick Lamar | Brandon Paz

Jay-Z hasn’t been able to do it in 13 albums. Eminem hasn’t been able to do it despite how strong he held the top of the music industry, but Kendrick Lamar ironically did and has become the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize in music.

Up until now, ever since the award expanded to music in 1943, the winner has always been a musician in the genres of either jazz or classical music; genres that don’t break the bank in the sales column.

Mainstream appeal has obviously not been a factor in the Pulitzer Prize for music, but it seems it may be going in that direction after this year.

Out of Lamar’s three major-label studio albums, “DAMN.” is by far his most commercially successful, having earned over three million equivalent album unit sales in the same year hip-hop became the most popular genre of music in the United States. However, despite that album’s commercial success, “To Pimp a Butterfly” has been generally agreed upon as his most important album, a quality deserving of a Pulitzer Prize.

Yes, “DAMN.” provided chart-topping songs with themes of faith, love, fame and blackness, but “To Pimp a Butterfly” intertwined all of those themes (and more), taking the listener through their furthest depths and guiding them to their highest peaks – all while paying homage to those who built the foundation of the musical platform he uses to speak from.

Additionally, the award’s historical preference for jazz and classical music raises even more questions about why Lamar’s most boom-bap rooted, pop-influenced sounding album won a Pulitzer over his jazz-rooted, black influenced magnum opus.

Just like questions rose over why “DAMN.” nor “To Pimp a Butterfly” won Album of the Year in their respective Grammy years, some questions just live on without answers and pursuit for greatness motivates artists like Lamar to keep making influential work.