Reporting tips from Pulitzer Prize winners

Data crunching, doorstepping, power story-telling. Winners of the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes talked about these and other reporting techniques in “Holding up the Mirror,” this year’s Pulitzer Prize Seminar. I had the privilege of moderating the seminar and to ask the prizewinners about how they worked in teams, where they got the information for their databases, and how they got people to talk to them when they knocked on their  doors at night (Matt Apuzzo of The AP said that the best time to doorstep people at home is 8:15 pm, after they’ve had dinner.)

This year’s Public Service Award went to the Philadelphia Inquirer for a multipart series on school violence. In the video below, Susan Snyder and Mike Leary describe how the newspaper formed a team of five reporters who worked over a year, interviewing over 300 people and compiling information from school and police reports, records of 911 calls and other sources. They found that every school day in Philadelphia, 25 students, teachers and staff members are beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted or otherwise violently attacked. They crunched all their numbers in a database that listed over 30,000 attacks that had occurred in the past five years. The series also featured horrific stories of the assaults, including those perpetrated by children ten years old or younger. The data and the compelling stories prompted dramatic changes in the Philadelphia school system.  

There were two winners in the investigative reporting category. One prize went to The Seattle Times’ Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong, whose three-part series on methadone deaths prompted Washington state to reverse its policy on the prescription painkiller. The series showed how the state had steered patients to methadone because it was cheap, but without warning them that the drug could be fatal. The Seattle Times team found more than 2,000 people who had died of methadone overdose. They overlay the data on a map and found that in the lowest income neighborhoods, the death rate was three times higher than in affluent areas. (See Berens’ explanation of the project here.) In the video below, Michael Berens delivers a passionate testimonial on the importance of investigative reporting and explains how he and Armstrong reported that story. 

Since September 11, the New York Police Department has become one of the country’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. In a series of stories that ran over several months, the Associated Press’s Matt Apuzzo and Elaine Sullivan found that the NYPD, with the help of the CIA, was spying on ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. Apuzzo and Sullivan recount in the video below how they were abe to pry secrets from one of the country’s most secretive police departments and provide tips, on among other things, knocking on the doors of police officers and getting them to spill their secrets. 

The most moving story of the evening was Craig Walker’s photo essay for the Denver Post, which chronicled the journey of an Iraq war veteran stricken with PTSD. Walker describes in the video how he found Scott Osborn, how he documented his life over several months, and what Osborn’s story tells us about the plight of veterans.

And here are all the winners taking questions from the audience: 

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2 Comments on “Reporting tips from Pulitzer Prize winners”

  1. […] from Pulitzer Prize winners on the stories that won the […]

  2. […] Read Sheila Coronel’s blog and watch excerpts of the seminar here. […]


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