Did Pulitzer Committee Even Consider Crimson White for Breaking News Reporting Prize? (It Should Have)

Among the list of Pulitzer Prize winners announced yesterday afternoon, one inclusion and related omission triggered a slight eyebrow raise.  The Tuscaloosa News earned the award in the Breaking News Reporting category “for its enterprising coverage of a deadly tornado” that ripped through parts of Alabama last April.

In my humble opinion, the T News absolutely deserves kudos for its work.  Yet, so does The Crimson White, the student newspaper at the University of Alabama.  I am going to hazard a guess that I am one of the few people on the planet to look at nearly every story, photo, video report, tweet, and interactive graphic put together by both the T News and CW in the immediate and extended aftermath of the tornado.  (This comprehensive review took place months after the content was first posted or published.)  My assessment: The Crimson White should have been strongly considered for a breaking news Pulitzer.

The CW student staffers reported with an extraordinary dedication, digital journalism prowess, and hyperlocal intensity that in many, many cases far outpace the T News’s own awesome work.  At the time, readers and other media noticed.  In the wake of the storm, the paper’s web traffic surged to historically high levels, and its Twitter followers increased by roughly 1,000 a day.

As editorial adviser Mark Mayfield wrote, by the end of the initial coverage phase, “MSNBC, The New York Times, Dateline NBC, and other national media outlets would link to stories in the Crimson White, or use images from the newspaper’s photographers.  National TV personalities, including CBS News anchor Katie Couric and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (a UA graduate), ‘tweeted’ links to CW articles … Video interviews with NBC News anchor Brian Williams and celebrity Charlie Sheen drew tens of thousands of viewers nationally.”

Among the paper’s most viral efforts was a Google map providing a geographic breakdown of everything tornado-related, including the path it took, the lives it claimed, the communities it affected, the buildings it leveled, and the volunteer opportunities available to help locals lessen its impact.  Brandee Easter, the CW staffer who created the map, even received recognition from a United Nations representative.

Even more awe-inspiring, the staff produced journalism at a prodigious rate through immensely difficult circumstances, personal and professional.  They worked from numerous bases of operation, including a reporter’s grandmother’s house.  One staffer suffered a gash on her leg, literally bleeding while in the newsroom.  Another received a call while in the newsroom that her house had been destroyed.  Yet another raced to help his girlfriend after her home was leveled and she had been pulled from the rubble.  Another traveled to Tuscaloosa’s main drag to confirm reports that his uncle’s pawn shop had been demolished.  Still others dealt with emotional aftershocks, tiredness, hunger, and worried family, friends, and significant others at home.

Through it all, they never stopped reporting, updating, innovating, interacting with the public, and providing a tornado aftermath narrative that makes the phrase “first rough draft of history” seem incredibly incomplete.


College Media Hall of Fame, Class of 2011: Victor Luckerson & The Crimson White

University of Alabama’s Crimson White Providing Comprehensive Coverage of Tornado’s Aftermath

Year in Review: Most Viral Student Media of 2011, Part 1

6 Responses to “Did Pulitzer Committee Even Consider Crimson White for Breaking News Reporting Prize? (It Should Have)”
  1. Jim says:

    To be considered for a Pulitzer, you have to submit work samples.

    So, that’s the end of that, I suppose.

  2. Joshua says:

    And since the school year was over I bet all of those Crimson White employees were working for free.

  3. Skip Hinton says:

    On target … As a former resident of Tuscaloosa and staffer at the UA I followed news from the Tuscaloosa News, the CW, and the university’s public radio station. All did great work.

  4. Bryan Murley says:

    As mentioned above, you have to enter to be considered. And, yeah, the CW did a great job.

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