The South Florida Sun Sentinel was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for public service on Monday for its impactful coverage of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The prize, the most respected in journalism, recognized the newspaper’s 10-month effort to reveal how 17 people could be murdered in a school considered one of the safest in Florida.
In dozens of stories, the Sun Sentinel exposed failures by the school district, law enforcement and social services that enabled the teenage gunman to enter the school on Valentine’s Day 2018 and slaughter staff and students with a semiautomatic rifle.
The Sun Sentinel’s coverage sparked significant changes in law enforcement and school safety and led to legislation to hold schools more accountable for crimes that occur on their campuses.
The Pulitzer judges cited the Sun Sentinel’s stories for “exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”
Pulitzer Prizes are awarded in 14 categories of journalism, and the award for public service, recognized with a gold medal, is considered the most prestigious. The Sun Sentinel also was named a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer in breaking news for what the board called “exhaustive and lucid” coverage that “brought compassion and clarity to a horrific tragedy.”
This is the second time the Sun Sentinel has won the Pulitzer for public service reporting. In 2013, the Pulitzer board awarded the Sun Sentinel its gold medal for an investigation of off-duty police officers endangering the lives of citizens by speeding. The series of stories, titled “Above the Law: Speeding Cops,” led police departments across South Florida to discipline scores of officers and institute new ways of tracking police activity.
The Sun Sentinel’s Parkland coverage included news stories and opinion pieces that:
— Laid bare how the Broward County school district failed to deal with a violent, mentally disturbed student who became a mass murderer.
— Exposed a culture of leniency that enabled the future shooter to get away with criminal behavior in school.
— Revealed that inaccurate school crime reporting presented a false picture of safety from Miami to the Panhandle.
— Held the Broward School Board responsible for hiding or distorting public information.
— Detailed the cowardice, lack of leadership and inadequate training of law enforcement, even as the sheriff extolled his agency’s performance.
“It means so much to win the gold medal Pulitzer for public service because that’s the spirit in which we approached our Parkland coverage,” said Sun Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. “We wanted our reporting to make a difference so that this never happens again.”
Managing Editor Dana Banker said: “This was the biggest and the saddest story our newsroom has ever covered. More than anything else, we wanted our work to serve the greater good. In a world where the next school shooting seems inevitable, we believed we had to do everything we could to expose what went wrong and the lessons to be learned.”
The Eagle Eye student newspaper at Stoneman Douglas was recognized by the Pulitzer board for documenting the shooting and aftermath while coping with its devastating effects. Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy said the students “should give us all hope for the future of journalism in this great democracy”
The judges also issued a special citation to the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were killed when a gunman stormed into their newsroom on June 28, 2018.
The Gazette, a sister paper to the Sun Sentinel, demonstrated “unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief.” The citation comes with a $100,000 bequest by the Pulitzer Board to be used to further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.
In addition to the Pulitzer, several other leading journalism organizations have recognized the Sun Sentinel’s Parkland coverage this year.
The newspaper this month received the O’Brien Fellowship Award for Impact in Public Service Journalism from the News Leaders Association, a nonprofit organization representing the editors and executives of the nation’s news media.
The Scripps Howard Foundation in March awarded the Sun Sentinel its top prize for breaking news coverage. The foundation also recognized the Sun Sentinel as a finalist in two other categories – Innovation and Multimedia – for two interactive projects, “Voices of Change” and “Unprepared and Overwhelmed.”