George Polk Awards recognize pandemic reporters

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This year’s George Polk Awards in Journalism gave particular recognition to journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly half of the awards going to reporters who highlighted policy responses to the pandemic and the virus’ impact on various communities. 

The awards, distributed by Long Island University, were unveiled Wednesday in a press release. A panel of judges selected winners across 18 categories out of a record total of 592 entries from print, online, television or radio reports from 2020. 

The honors, established in 1949 in memory of George Polk, a CBS correspondent killed in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war, focus on recognizing “investigative and enterprising reporting that gains attention and achieves results,” the university said Wednesday. 

The Washington Post received the most awards of any news organization this year with four prizes, including one to journalist Eli Saslow in the “Oral History” category for a series of 25 personal narratives titled, “Voices from the Pandemic.”

A team of Post reporters was also awarded the prize for “Justice Reporting,” for its six-part “George Floyd’s America” series, which detailed the poverty, structural racism and other discrimination Floyd faced throughout his life before he was killed last May by Minneapolis police. 

The Post said it put the series together based on 150 interviews with Floyd’s friends, colleagues, public officials and scholars. 

The “Health Reporting” award went to ProPublica for two series examining the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black Americans and meatpacking workers. 

Dan Diamond of Politico was given the “Medical Reporting” award for his analysis of the Trump administration’s efforts to influence the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its responses to the pandemic. 

Diamond in his reporting unveiled several actions, including a $300 million celebrity ad campaign to promote the administration’s responses, proposed $200 drug discount cards for seniors and disregarding a “pandemic playbook” developed by the Obama administration. 

John Darnton, curator of the Polk awards, said in a statement along with Wednesday’s press release that the eight entries centered around the coronavirus pandemic “represent the best of the best.” 

“As always, we strive to identify individual reporters who do significant work, not just the news organizations themselves,” Darnton said. “We have never seen a story on the scale of the pandemic. In large part it fell to the press to inform the public about it and the press performed admirably.” 

While awardees are typically honored at a luncheon each year, the awards were instead announced in a videoconference Wednesday, and the university will compile recorded remarks from the winners for a video that will be available on the Polk website. 

The press release added that a webinar, titled “The Press & the Pandemic,” will air on April 8, and include a discussion among a panel of some of this year’s award winners.

Tags American journalism Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC coronavirus covid-19 coronavirus pandemic Extreme poverty George Floyd Politico ProPublica structural racism The Washington Post Trump Administration
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