Parkland Parents Call for Top Journalism Prize for Sun-Sentinel Coverage

By Mark Walsh — January 30, 2019 2 min read
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Two parents of students slain at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School last year have written an open letter to the leadership of the Pulitzer Prizes, calling for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to be awarded the top prize for its coverage of the mass shooting.

“This was the most avoidable mass murder in American history, enabled by a sheriff’s office and a school district characterized by administrative incompetence so staggering and moral corruption so deep that it took the Sun-Sentinel the better part of the year the uncover it all,” says the letter published Jan. 30 at the website Real Clear Education by Andrew Pollack and Ryan Petty. “But long after the national media moved on to the next controversy, local reporters here kept at it.”

Petty lost his 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, and Pollack lost his 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, in the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student. Seventeen students and staff members were killed and 17 others were injured. The shooter has been charged with 17 counts of murder and other charges and faces the death penalty.

The Sun-Sentinel has written a number of groundbreaking stories about how the alleged shooter fell through the cracks of the Broward County school district’s discipline and mental health systems and how the district has allegedly worked to mask the failures.

“The work by the Sun-Sentinel’s reporters reminds us of what journalism can and should be, and also what is tragically being lost as local newspapers downsize and the news media is increasingly dominated by a clickbait competition tied to national flashpoint issues of the week,” Petty and Pollack write.

The letter criticizes the Sun-Sentinel’s editorial board for endorsing incumbent Broward school board members last year. And it takes a swipe at The Washington Post for a story published four days after the shootings that the Parkland parents say improperly “exonerated” the school district for its failures.

The Pulitzer Prizes are administered by Columbia University. The Pulitzer website says “any individual” may submit an entry, though typically in the journalism categories, submissions are made by the newspaper, magazine, or news website that published the story.

The deadline was Jan. 25 for submissions, after which juries of editors, publishers, writers, and educators judge the entries. Finalists are submitted to the Pulitzer Prize Board, which makes the final selections before announcing the winners and other finalists in April.

The board, which is made up of many top journalism leaders in the field and others, has been known to engage in some degree of internal lobbying or politicking over the finalists. But attempts at influence from outside have been rare.

Dana Canedy, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said via email that prize deliberations “are held in strict confidence in order to maintain the integrity of the judging process. And we let the prize selections speak for themselves.”

The top journalism award is the gold medal for public service, which goes to a news organization. In 2000, the staff of the Denver Post won a Pulitzer in the breaking news category for its coverage of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo. In 2013, the staff of the Hartford Courant was a finalist in the breaking news category for its coverage of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In 2013, the Philadelphia Inquirer won the public service medal for its exploration of pervasive violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.