Two Newspapers’ Series on Race and Education Awarded Pulitzer Prizes

By Mark Walsh — April 19, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Two newspaper series that focused on race and education on Monday won Pulitzer Prizes, the most prestigious award in print journalism.

The Tampa Bay Times won the Pulitzer for local reporting for its “Failure Factories” series, about the failures of the Pinellas County, Fla., school system to educate its African-American children. The series has swept a number of other journalism prizes recently.

The Pulitzer for commentary went to Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe, for what the prize committee said were “extensively reported columns that probe the legacy of busing in Boston and its effect on education in the city with a clear eye on ongoing racial contradictions.”

“There’s something ... notable about our conversations on race today: the disconnect between where we are in 2015 and where we thought we’d be,” Stockman wrote in her first column of the “Boston After Busing” series last August. “The half-finished project of racial equality in the United States leaves us with a parade of endless contradictions.”

Stockman, an East Lansing, Mich., native who attended Harvard University, was an editorial writer for the Globe and now is a reporter for The New York Times. She wrote in a later column in the Globe series that “Today, the concept of court-ordered busing to desegregate schools has few champions. Conservatives look back on busing in Boston as an outrageous overreach of government powers. Liberals look back on it as a policy that didn’t go far enough. It didn’t last long enough. It didn’t reach deep enough into the wealthy suburbs.”

“It’s a shame that busing has gone out of style at the very moment we’ve gotten a better understanding of why it failed—and where it worked,” she wrote.

Stockman’s “comprehensive, nuanced examination of busing mapped out not only the contours of the past but also the long-tailed impact on the Boston and New England of 2015,” the Globe wrote in nominating her series for the Pulitzers, which are administered by Columbia University.

Local Reporting Award

The Tampa Bay Times series by Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner, and Michael LaForgia examined the 104,000-student Pinellas County district after it abandoned racial desegregation efforts in 2007.

The series was named a finalist in the Pulitzer’s top category, Public Service, but the Pulitzer Board moved it to the local reporting category and awarded it the top prize there. (It’s not uncommon for the Pulitzer board to make such moves after separate panels of judges nominate finalists in each category.)

“For years, the people in charge of Pinellas County schools blamed abysmal black academic performance on poverty,” the Tampa Bay Times said in nominating the series. “They excused it as the natural state of things, saying it was no different than the challenges faced by any other school system across the nation.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the nomination letter continued. “The Tampa Bay Times investigation found that in just the past seven years, school leaders—through their actions, their neglect and a blind-eye to the consequences of both—created five of the worst schools in Florida. Compared with black students in urban and rural communities poorer and socially rougher, the kids in well-to-do Pinellas fared badly, the Times found.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights opened an investigation into whether the school district systematically discriminates against black children.

“We are still the voice that challenges,” LaForgia, 32, told his colleagues in a newsroom celebration Monday, the Times reported. “We have to come in to work and be that voice.”

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