School Segregation Coverage Wins 2 Pulitzers & Peabody Award

The big news in education journalism so far this week is the announcement that the Tampa Bay Times had been awarded the top prize for local news coverage by the Pulitzer Prize committee. “For exposing a local school board’s culpability in turning some county schools into failure factories, with tragic consequences for the community.”

It wasn’t all that much a surprise, given that the series had been lauded by the IRE, the Polk Award committee, etc. It features a clear, strong storyline, some great visuals and interactives to help move readers along, and real-world impact on the district’s operations. 

This isn’t the first time a newspaper has won a Pulitzer writing about schools. Four years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer won for its school violence series. The seven-part series, “Assault on Learning,” revealed that “violence in city schools was widespread and underreported, with 30,000 serious incidents over the last five school years.” 

Just last year, the team from California’s Daily Breeze won for a series on district mismanagement in Centinela Valley featuring “widespread corruption in a small, cash-strapped school district.”

There was another education-related entry that won a Pulitzer this year, in the category of Commentary, on Boston schools, in The Boston Globe: “For extensively reported columns that probe the legacy of busing in Boston and its effect on education in the city with a clear eye on ongoing racial contradictions.”

For a full list of education-related Pulitzers, go here and click “winners.”

None of that takes anything away from the TBT’s accomplishment, which required not only standing out enough to be a finalist but also beating out the New York Times’ much-shared expose of working conditions in nail salons.

According to TBT reporters Cara Fitzpatrick, it was “a surreal day” yesterday when the announcement first came out, including innumerable congratulations on social media and a laudatory tweet from EdSec John King (who’d visited the district in October with Arne Duncan) and an interview by Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams, which Fitzpatrick described as “a strange moment.”

What’s next? Apparently there’s more to come with the Pinellas County story, and two of the three TBT reporters are going to be at EWA in a week and a half, talking about their work.

What really makes all this notable is that it represents another big step forward in coverage of school segregation issues, which had been for many years ignored or under-recognized.

Why didn’t Nikole Hannah Jones and Chana Joffe-Walt win for their This American Life pieces? There’s no Pulitzer for radio. That’s the Peabody, which was announced earlier today — and This American Life won!

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.