New York Daily News And ProPublica Win Pulitzer For Public Service Journalism | KERA News

New York Daily News And ProPublica Win Pulitzer For Public Service Journalism

Apr 10, 2017
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and the arts were announced. Big papers like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were all honored for their work. But the prize for investigative reporting went to West Virginia's Charleston Gazette-Mail, circulation 37,000. NPR's Lynn Neary has more.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Journalist Eric Eyre didn't think he had much chance of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

ERIC EYRE: Small newspapers like ours usually don't win these big awards.

NEARY: Eyre won for his investigative reporting into the huge number of opioid drugs that major wholesale drug companies flooded into small towns in West Virginia.

EYRE: For instance, Kermit has a population of 392 people. And one pharmacy in the small town of Kermit, W.V., received nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills over just a two-year period.

NEARY: In addition to wrongdoing by the drug companies, Eyre found that local doctors prescribed the drugs and small pharmacies sold them.

EYRE: Surprisingly, it was mostly the mom and pop pharmacies, the independently-owned pharmacies. It wasn't the Rite Aids and the Walgreens.

NEARY: The Pulitzer for national reporting went to David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post for his coverage of Donald Trump's charitable giving. Fahrenthold says the idea for his story came to him while he was covering a Trump campaign rally.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: He stops the rally and he brings a local veterans group up on stage. And Trump gives them this giant check, you know, like a 4 foot long golf-tournament-sized check, perfect for the cameras to see, that says Donald J. Trump Foundation on the top. It's for $100,000 to this veterans group. And on the bottom the check says make America great again.

NEARY: Fahrenthold says that got him wondering about Trump's contributions to both the vets and to other charities. In the end, he says, he uncovered two major findings.

FAHRENTHOLD: Between 2008 and 2015, a time which he'd been promising millions and millions to charity, I found one gift out of his own pocket for less than $10,000. That's one thing. The other thing was he was using this personal foundation, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, in ways that broke the law or appeared to break the law.

NEARY: The top honor, the public service Pulitzer, went to the New York Daily News and ProPublica for uncovering the abuse of eviction rules by police in New York City. In addition to journalism, the Pulitzers also honor arts and letters. The drama Pulitzer went to Lynn Nottage for her play "Sweat" about factory workers fearful of losing their jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SWEAT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They got buttons now - boop (ph) - that can replace all of us - boop, boop.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, laughter) Come on, man. You're being paranoid.

NEARY: Nottage set her play in Reading, Pa. She spent more than two years visiting the town and talking to the people there.

LYNN NOTTAGE: No one ever spoke of their city in present tense, they always spoke of it in past tense. And that really broke my heart. And then when I pushed them further, people spoke a great deal about feeling invisible. We feel as though our city's government doesn't see us. We feel as though the rest of the country doesn't see it.

NEARY: The prize for fiction went to Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad," which also won the National Book Award. The idea behind the book is a simple conceit. The Underground Railroad is a real railroad. Each stop is in a different state. And each stop vividly depicts a different aspect of the horrors of slavery. Readers follow the journey of a young slave, Cora, as she tries to make her way to freedom. In this passage, Whitehead describes how Cora's grandmother was first sold into slavery.

COLSON WHITEHEAD: (Reading) Cora's grandmother was sold a few times on the trek to the fort, passed between slavers for cowry shells and glass beads. It was hard to say how much they paid for her in Ouidah, as she was part of a bulk purchase - 88 human souls for 60 crates of rum and gunpowder - the price arrived upon after the standard haggling in coast English.

NEARY: The history prize went to Heather Ann Thompson for "Blood In The Water." And Hisham Matar won the prize for autobiography for "The Return: Fathers, Sons And The Land In Between." Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.