LA Times wins Pulitzers for coverage

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant 2023-05-09 00:22:17

The Los Angeles Times won two Pulitzer Prizes on Monday for reporting on two of the most disturbing issues facing Southern California: homelessness and racial division.

The paper’s staff won the Breaking News Pulitzer for a series of stories on a classified audio recording that revealed members of the Los Angeles City Council during a crude and racist bull session about political power in the city.

Christina House won the principal photography award for her highly empathetic images of a young woman living along the Hollywood Freeway as she deals with drug problems and the birth of a child.

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The Times has now won seven Pulitzers for breaking news, more than any other news organization. This was also the fifth year in a row that the outlet won at least one Pulitzer, considered the highest honor in journalism.

The paper’s staff was a finalist in the local coverage category for its series of stories about the wave of illegal cultivation, corruption and worker exploitation that followed California’s legalization of marijuana.

“These awards reflect careful, sophisticated, nuanced reporting and photography on complex topics that matter to Angelenos: power, representation, race relations, homelessness,” said Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida. “The awards are a testament to the consistently high quality of LA Times journalism. I am very proud of the winners and of the entire staff.”

A story that would come to dominate LA and its leaders for months began on a Saturday afternoon in early October, when reporter Julia Wick got a tip from a source: LA City Council members and a union leader had been recorded having a raw and ugly private conversation about how they could keep power in the city.

The recording had been posted to Reddit weeks earlier and then deleted but received little attention before The Times obtained a copy of the audio and began the intense and painstaking work of verifying and analyzing the content, a task spearheaded by Wick, David Zahniser, Dakota Smith and Ben Oreskes.

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Just after 9 a.m. that Sunday, The Times ran a story detailing how Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez made cruel and racist remarks when she and fellow citizens Kevin de Leon and Gilbert Cedillo discussed how she and other Latino politicians strengthen their positions.

Martinez specifically targeted then-Alderman Mike Bonin, who is white, and Bonin’s young son, who is black. At one point, Martinez called Bonin a “little bitch” and referred to his son as a “changuito” or “like a monkey”. She also said that Bonin’s son misbehaved on a float and needed a “beating”.

The revelation sparked outrage and calls for Martinez and the other council members to resign. In less than a week, the powerful council chairman had been forced to resign. Cedillo left the board at the end of his term, while demands for De Leon’s resignation continue to this day.

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In the weeks that followed, much of The Times staff would be engaged in dissecting the recording and its context – ranging from redistribution to obscure political rivalries and the more sweeping racial divisions plaguing Los Angeles.

As the journalists, led by assistant editor Steve Clow, began to understand the story, The Times and its lawyer had to avert the threat of legal action from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the powerful union organization whose lawyers claimed was responsible for the recording. was “illegal” and said the newspaper would subject itself to “potential liability”.

Among the story’s many follow-ups was a deeply reported and annotated transcript of the entire conversation, with Times beat reporters and columnists including Gustavo Arellano, Erika D. Smith, and Michael Hiltzik helping to shed light on the context and hidden intrigue within the private conversation.

House’s work grew out of her collaborations with videojournalist Claire Hannah Collins and homelessness reporter Gale Holland. Collins had the original idea to focus intensively on the travails of homeless women living with pregnancies and sometimes births while living on the streets.

The trio found 22-year-old Mckenzie Trahan, pregnant and alive in a tent, above the roar of the highway. Not only did they get to know Trahan, but also the two women – her mother and case manager – whose lives were also blighted by homelessness.

House captured the most intimate moments of the young woman’s life, including when she gave birth to her daughter and later when she shared a bath with her baby.

The editors who nominated House for the award praised the special bond she forged with her subject, an intimacy that can be seen in Trahan’s photographs. The stories appeared in a special column of The Times last July, with the headline ‘Hollywood’s Finest’.

A documentary Collins made as part of the project premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and was named a finalist for feature film in January 2023.

LA Times wins Pulitzers for coverage

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