Read The Washington Post stories that won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize

2°C: Beyond the Limit was awarded the Pulitzer for explanatory reporting; The Post also had finalists for public service, breaking news and commentary

The staff of The Washington Post won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for its series on climate change, 2°C: Beyond the Limit, which fundamentally reshaped the climate debate by showing that extreme warming is not a worry for the future — 10 percent of the planet has already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius.

To convey the devastating reality of present-day climate change, The Post reported from a dozen global hot spots and marshaled vast datasets to help readers visualize our rapidly warming planet.

The Post’s staff was also a finalist in two other categories: public service, for an investigation of the opioid epidemic; and breaking news, for dual coverage of the Dayton and El Paso shootings. Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins was a finalist for commentary as well.

Links that were submitted as entries to the Pulitzer board from the climate change series and each of The Post’s finalists are included below:

(The Washington Post)

Winner: 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting

The Staff of The Washington Post

For a groundbreaking series that showed with scientific clarity the dire effects of extreme temperatures on the planet.

For its “2C: Beyond the Limit” series, The Washington Post analyzed global datasets tracking nearly 170 years of temperature records to map every place that has already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — the threshold international negotiators hope the planet as a whole will never reach. This massive, pioneering use of temperature data demonstrated that extreme climate change is already a life-altering reality across 10 percent of the Earth’s surface. Writers and photographers were dispatched to produce deeply reported missives from a warmer, more erratic future.

The series simultaneously relied on and demystified the science of climate change — for instance, allowing readers to interact with a spinning globe that highlighted the areas of greatest warming. The work was scientifically advanced, but the results were simple to understand.

The effort was prompted by a pair of alarming studies that found that insects and birds were disappearing in Puerto Rico and the Mojave Desert. The Post noticed a key detail: These locations were heating up much faster than the global average. Working with data from Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit climate research group, and that of other researchers, we mapped temperature change across a century.

The multimedia series included 12 stories that took readers to places as varied and far-flung as the troubled waters in the Sea of Okhotsk, the outdoor air-conditioning in some of Qatar’s stadiums and markets, and a popular New Jersey resort whose lake once supplied the ice boxes of New York City. Now the water no longer freezes thick enough to sustain ice fishing.

The research added to our understanding of the erosion of winter and rapidly changing ocean currents — many of the latter not previously reported. And it allowed The Post to create the graphics and animations that let readers see how severe climate change has affected their own counties and countries.

The Opioids Files (The Washington Post)

Finalist: 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service

The Washington Post

For groundbreaking, data-driven journalism that used previously hidden government records and confidential company documents to provide unprecedented insight into America’s deadly opioid epidemic.

It is one of the biggest stories of our time and it was hiding in plain sight: How did the opioid epidemic overtake America? The prevailing narrative offered a too-easy scapegoat. Purdue Pharma in the 1990s unleashed an ostensible wonder drug, OxyContin, and addicted millions. But the epidemic took off after Purdue was brought to heel and fined $600 million. If not Purdue, who drove the epidemic? And why didn’t anyone stop them?

The Washington Post definitively answered these questions in 2019, establishing an accurate narrative that brought accountability to the companies involved and the government officials who failed to act.

The Post learned that a secret DEA database contained a hidden road map to the epidemic, tracking every opioid pill from maker to pharmacy. The Post and the owner of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail sued to get the data. After a year-long legal fight, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of The Post and Gazette-Mail. The database contained 380 million records and was by far the largest we have ever worked with. Under enormous deadline pressure, The Post produced exclusive stories and interactive databases spotlighting the biggest distributors: McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Walgreens, Walmart. The biggest manufacturer was a company few people had ever heard of: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt.

The Post published the entire data set, allowing readers to see how many pills came into their neighborhood pharmacies and who sent them. Reporters at 129 media outlets used the data to write their own stories and 44,000 individuals downloaded the entire set.

(The Washington Post)

Finalist: 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News

The Staff of The Washington Post

For incisive coverage of back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that contextualized these events for a national audience.

The dual tragedies in El Paso and Dayton challenged our staff to break through the formulas of mass shooting coverage. Instead of two news events, we approached them as a single national moment, exemplified by our five-column front-page headline coming out of that deadly weekend: “2 cities, 13 hours, 29 deaths” (the death toll later rose to 31).

By Monday, The Post had staffers in El Paso, Dallas, Dayton and Mexico City. In the days that followed, our stories covered every aspect of the fallout, including the political and social ramifications as well as the emotional, international, medical and national security impacts. Our coverage drove home the enormity of the moment and the ever-present challenge our nation faces in confronting gun violence.

The Post was the first news organization to report that most of the hospitalized victims in El Paso did not want to meet with President Trump; we were the first to interview the Dayton shooter’s girlfriend, who told us “this was expected”; and we were the first to identify his Twitter account, moments before it was shut down. Our staff worked quickly to archive and screenshot the tweets, which showed a penchant for violence and leftist politics.

We also put the victims at the center of our coverage, producing a 12-page special section that presented the nation’s mass shooting epidemic in stark graphics and photos, including the names of all 1,196 mass shooting victims since the University of Texas clock tower massacre in 1966. The display emphasized the growing frequency and death toll of American mass shootings and, with a collage of the victims’ faces, drove home the human cost, showing an array of ethnicities and ages.

(The Washington Post)

Related: El Paso lives lost | Dayton lives lost | Mass shootings database

(The Washington Post)

Finalist: 2020 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Commentary

Sally Jenkins

For columns that marshal a broad knowledge of history and culture to remind the sports world of its responsibility to uphold basic values of equity, fairness and tolerance.

There is no other columnist today who writes with the breadth and vigor of Sally Jenkins, and does it with such exquisite intellect and command of language, history and culture. When the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup, Jenkins broadened the lens on its achievement to explain it in the context of the historic battle for women’s rights. “Every time a women’s team wins another gold medal, it helps other women enter a new space, move up to a higher suite. And when they enter that new space, they change it forever — and not just by improving the language and table manners,” she wrote “… To borrow a phrase from Condoleezza Rice, they make ‘the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect.’ In another World Cup piece, she issued a ringing endorsement of the team’s fight for equal pay in characteristic, bare-knuckled prose: “Sweet kicking Jesus, what titans these players are.”

Jenkins is bold, whether she’s taking on a professional sports league or nailing a global superstar or sailing against a popular narrative.


Complete list of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners

2019: The Post wins Pulitzer Prizes for criticism, photography; affiliated cartoonist also honored

2018: The Post wins 2 Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on Russian interference and Alabama Senate race

2017: Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold wins Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Trump’s charitable giving

2016: Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for police shootings coverage

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