The awards this year were heavily weighted toward journalism about the pandemic; winners in seven of the 18 categories focused on some element of the coronavirus’s devastating impact.
Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen’s dispatches about the changing cultural and political landscape in Georgia won in the political reporting category; Eli Saslow’s interviews with people grappling with the pandemic were named the winner of a new oral-history category; and Ian Shapira’s eye-opening stories about racism at VMI were recognized in state reporting.
The Post’s six-part series “George Floyd’s America,” the winner in the justice-reporting category, was produced by a team of Post staff members. Based on more than 150 interviews, it documented how housing discrimination, inferior educational opportunities and police intimidation circumscribed Floyd’s life leading up to his death in May. The Polk committee said the reporting provided an “uncanny match” to the themes raised by the national movement that arose following his death.
The four awards tied The Post for the most received in one year by a news organization since the Polks were established in 1949 by Long Island University. They are named in memory of George Polk, a CBS News correspondent who was murdered while covering the Greek civil war the year before. The New York Times has also won four, in 2017 and 2019.
The Post was also involved in reporting, editing and publishing stories that were recognized with a special award to the late Regina Martínez, an investigative reporter for Proceso, a weekly publication in Mexico. “The Cartel Project,” which linked Mexican politicians to drug dealers and documented the coverup of Martínez’s murder in 2012, was produced by a global network of journalists organized by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit group. Among the lead writers on the project was Dana Priest, a veteran Post reporter.
Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said the awards were especially gratifying this year because they recognized the depth and range of the news organization’s journalism, and because the reporting was conducted under the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.
“We faced one enormous story after another,” he said. “The staff rose to the occasion.”
Shapira’s reporting about the mistreatment of Black cadets at VMI prompted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI alumnus, to order an investigation. It also led to the resignation of the school’s superintendent.
The Polk committee created a new category of oral history to honor Saslow’s “Voices from the Pandemic.” The first-person interviews, the committee said, were crafted to reflect “a segment of the American populace coping with grief, fear, guilt, bitterness, frustration, tension, rejection and other emotions.” Saslow also won a Polk Award in 2013.
McCrummen’s three profiles of Georgia residents “deftly [captured] Georgia’s shifting political winds,” the Polk committee said. Among the stories recognized was her profile of Kevin Van Ausdal, the Democratic opponent of congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, who promoted the extremist ideology QAnon and other radical misinformation.
Among others Polk winners: the Atlantic magazine’s Ed Yong, for his reporting about the coronavirus; a team of New York Times reporters (Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire) for their investigation and analysis of former president Donald Trump’s tax records; the staff of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for coverage of Floyd’s death and its aftermath; and Dan Diamond of Politico for documenting the Trump administration’s interference with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources of medical and scientific knowledge.
Diamond has since joined The Post as a reporter.
Another new Post reporter, Akilah Johnson, was a leading member of a ProPublica team that won a Polk Award for pieces that exposed the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled the name of New York Times reporter Russ Buettner and inaccurately presented Dana Priest’s current status with The Washington Post.