George Polk Award Winners Are a Reflection of an Intense 2016

David A. Fahrenthold, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, New York Times reporters and more pick up honors

In a period in which the mass of news is so dense it is hard to remember important work that came out a day ago, much less several months ago, journalism awards serve not only as a tool for recognition, but for memory as well.

While the work of David A. Fahrenthold, this year’s George Polk Award winner for political reporting, stays with us as he continues to cover the Trump administration, financial reporting winner ICIJ’s immense effort sorting and explaining the leaked financial documents detailing the offshore tax havens of the powerful, known as the Panama Papers, has had a shorter half life, thanks to the election cycle. The award makes this win an opportunity to reintroduce the discoveries contained within the reporting.

John Darnton, curator of the George Polk Awards, called this year “a tough one for journalism” in a press release announcing the awards, especially in light of 2016-election year affairs like “fake news, trite news, disinformation campaigns and charges of biased coverage,” going on to say that the “Polk winners, chosen from some 500 submissions, show there are still bright spots. A vibrant press continues to inform, expose, tell the truth and occasionally fill us all with outrage at injustice.”

The award winners cover a lot of territory, from local award winners Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston reporting for the East Bay Express on a “sordid criminal sex scandal within the Oakland police department” to Anand Gopal’s magazine reporting award for his Atlantic piece on The Hell After ISIS, which looks at the life of an internally displaced refugee family in Iraq.

The other winners include:

  • Playwright, actress and professor Anna Deavere Smith, who gets the George Polk Career Award.
  • The New York Times’ Nicholas Casey and Meridith Kohut, a reporter/photojournalist duo who win the foreign reporting award for their series on the societal impacts of Venezuela’s financial crisis.
  • ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis wins the award for national reporting for his election-season reporting on blue collar Americans across the country.
  • The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein, Scott Higham and David Fallis win the award for medical reporting for their look at oversight and lack thereof related to narcotic painkillers, and the pharmaceutical industry’s successful attempts at hiring away DEA officials.
  • The Arizona Republic’s Craig Harris wins the state reporting award for the state’s firing of workers, appearing to target women and older workers.
  • The Marshall Project’s Christie Thompson and NPR’s Joseph Shapiro receive the justice reporting award for their investigation into the sometimes fatal consequences of bunking pairs of prisoners together in solitary confinement cells.
  • The New York Times’ Rebecca R. Ruiz gets the award for sports reporting for her reporting on the state-sponsored Russian doping program.
  • The Houston Chronicle’s Brian M. Rosenthal gets the education reporting award for his investigation into a longstanding state policy applying quotas limiting the number of students eligible to receive special education services.
  • WNYC’s Robert Lewis gets the radio reporting award for his look at the off-hours financial entanglements of NYPD officers.
  • KARE-11 in Minneapolis’ A. J. Lagoe, Steve Eckert and Gary Knox win the television reporting award for their series on unqualified Minnesota VA hires diagnosing veterans.
  • The New York Times’ Daniel Berehulak receives the photojournalism award for his photo essay on Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte violent anti-drug campaign.
  • Nanfu Wang received the documentary film award for Hooligan Sparrow, about the work of women’s rights activist Ye Haiyan in China.

The reporter-focused George Polk Awards are named after CBS radio correspondent George Polk, who was murdered in 1948 in Greece during the country’s civil war, which pitted communists against a right-wing government. Three communists were convicted for the murder, but many, including Polk’s brother and a number of scholars, believed these were not the real culprits. Prior to his death, Polk had received death threats and the Greek government tried unsuccessfully to get CBS to move him to an assignment outside the country, but Polk remained committed to his work. The awards were established in his memory the year after his death.