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Pulitzer Center Update June 17, 2021

Grantee Nadja Drost One of Few Freelancers Awarded a Pulitzer Prize

Image by PBS NewsHour. Mexico, 2019.
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Where South America squeezes into Central America lies the nexus of one of the most circuitous...

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Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes are awarded to exemplary journalists, photographers, writers, musicians, poets, and more. Poynter reporter Angela Fu writes in the article 'Freelancers rarely win Pulitzers. But this year, two writers took home journalism’s top prize’. With more than 2,500 entries and only 21 awards handed out every year, a Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious and challenging award to win. For freelance journalists, winning this award can be even more challenging. In past years, freelancers who have been up for Pulitzers have been typically editorial cartoonists or photographers. Often, reporters who are up for Pulitzers are employed by established news organizations that have more flexibility with timing and budget.

On June 11, it was announced that grantee and freelancer Nadja Drost won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for the story “When can we really rest?” Drost followed migrants crossing the treacherous Darién Gap, an undeveloped area of marsh and rainforest on the Colombia-Panama border.

In two incredible freelance wins, Mitchell S. Jackson alongside Drost was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. Jackson wrote about the life and murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery for Runners World. Drost is a Canadian journalist currently based in New York City.

“When can we really rest?” first appeared in The California Sunday Magazine in April 2020. Drost spent five days traveling with the migrants making a dangerous journey to the United States. Her piece was described by the Pulitzer Prize Board as “a brave and gripping account of global migration.”

“It’s easy to forget how people’s lives are being affected by policies and the extraordinary challenges and vulnerabilities that people are having in trying to seek refuge in the U.S.,” Drost said in an interview with Angela Fu of Poynter. “I would hope that readers can read this piece and see some of the people in the piece as multi-dimensional characters who had lives before they started their migration journey and gave up those lives, or were forced out of those lives.” Consideration for a Pulitzer presents challenges for freelancers, with the pandemic making 2020 significantly more difficult. Barriers to travel, newsroom layoffs, and the ending of freelance pitches have all made the work harder for these journalists.

“It’s been a very tough, dry year,” Drost said. “Up until the pandemic, all of my work has been internationally based, and flights ground to a halt. So all of a sudden, I couldn’t do the kind of work that I was accustomed to doing.”

Freelance journalists around the country took to Twitter to congratulate Drost. Her win gave recognition to the possibility freelancers could have at achieving this award. The Pulitzer Prize is journalism’s highest honor. The Pulitzer Center is not affiliated with the awards.

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