Star Tribune wins Breaking News Reporting Pulitzer for George Floyd coverage
Staff at the Minneapolis Star Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for news reporting “for their nuanced coverage” of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and subsequent protests and investigations.
The Star Tribune reported the news as it arose, but supplemented it with in-depth timelines, analysis and stories. One of the first of them, “George Floyd and the town that killed him”, a column by Jennifer Brooks, published three days after her murder.
A week later, The Star Tribune released a full takeaway, titled “A week in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s fatal encounter with the police occurred on the evening of May 25, 2020. This was revealed the next morning in a police press release that made no mention of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd. But surveillance video quickly emerged, and the four officers involved had been dismissed at the end of the day.
I asked editor and senior vice president Rene Sanchez in a phone interview to describe the Star Tribune’s coverage strategy, and he replied, “We figured out early on that this was going to be a huge story and very painful for our community. … You could call our head and heart approach. … (The events) have raised some very difficult questions for our community.
The reporting issues were significant, Sanchez added. “During the pandemic we were working from home… but in this business you never know when the news is going to jump on you and demand everything you have.”
Without any stock of gas masks and other protective gear, journalists and photographers immediately took to the streets, covering the protests which quickly drew a massive law enforcement presence and turned into violence.
None of its staff were seriously injured, Sanchez said, but half a dozen were hit by rubber bullets or otherwise injured. Getting the job done became a double act of courage, Sanchez said, because being at the heart of events also involved exposure to COVID-19.
Floyd’s death and its aftermath exposed issues of racial disparity and police misconduct in Minneapolis that have never been punished. The neighborhood station closest to the incident was set on fire, and city council voted to fund the force – an action later called off.
The Star Tribune concluded its 2020 cover with a long, elegantly illustrated biographical piece in late December titled “George Floyd’s Search for Salvation”. (Chauvin’s trial and conviction only took place in 2021 and therefore was not part of the entry).
The Star Tribune last won a Pulitzer in 2013 for local reporting with a series on infant deaths in poorly regulated home day care centers. The newspaper also had a number of Pulitzer finalists, most recently last year for its editorial writing.
In addition to deploying an editorial team of around 240 people, The Star Tribune, which is independent and locally owned, is viewed by me and other media business analysts as one of the most financially sound metros, if not the most solid.
Its digital-only pay circulation exceeds 100,000, and it is also a leader in Sunday print circulation, behind only national newspapers and those serving Los Angeles and Chicago. In recent years, it has suffered loss of income, but much less than normal for the industry.
The other Pulitzer finalists in the breaking news category were the staff of The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky, “for coverage that contradicted police accounts of the murder of Breonna Taylor and its aftermath; And Helen Branswell, Andrew Joseph and the late Sharon Begley of Statistical “For their premonitory coverage of the emergence of COVID-19. “
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