In 2021, the Pulitzer Center’s vibrant and resilient global community of journalists, educators, and partners met challenge after challenge with courage, inventiveness, and compassion. Our grantees used the power of data, art, and collaboration to bring some of their most ambitious and transformative reporting to diverse audiences locally and globally.
The over 200 reporting projects supported by the Pulitzer Center this year struck down bad laws, helped end harmful government programs, and bore witness to events and atrocities that otherwise would be hidden from public scrutiny. We supported over 300 grantees reporting from 79 countries (and counting), publishing stories on a diverse range of urgent global issues impacting communities around the world.
Pulitzer Center staff have selected just 32 stories to highlight in our 2021 list, from exposing illegal deforestation by cattle ranchers in the Amazon, to chronicling the last days of America’s longest war in Afghanistan. These pieces tell the stories of our time, and for our journalism partners, the stakes have never been higher.
These challenging times underscore the importance of thoughtful engagement with deep, investigative journalism. These stories would not be possible without the support of readers like you.
Conflict and Peace Building
Artists Medo Kagonka, Hajooj Kuka, Akon, Assil Diab, Elhassan Elmountasir, Reem Aljeally, and the others mentioned in this story are inspiring examples of how art can be a powerful tool in the ongoing fight for justice. They deserve to have their work seen by a global audience.
— Lucy Crelli, Design and Social Media Coordinator
Jane Ferguson's reporting is critical to keeping attention on Afghanistan. Her work is deeply reported, alerting the world to the current crises for the civilian population and serving as an early warning for the impending humanitarian disasters if we turn away from the country of our decades-long military focus.
— Ann Peters, Director of University / Community Outreach
Published right as the world sees the light at the end of the pandemic, "The Missing Ones" recalls the reality that much of the world lived through during the worst waves of COVID-19. I lived in Ecuador during the pandemic, and felt an immense relief upon looking back with this documentary that the debilitating waves of hospitalizations are, hopefully, over. This production creates a solemn, safe space to remember what we survived as a society while reminding us to take care of those still deeply affected by tragedy. It also invites us to ponder how dependent we became on sometimes faulty government systems during the worst days of the pandemic.
— Alexandra Waddell, Copy Editor Assistant
Emily Kassie (The Marshall Project) and Ben C. Solomon (PBS' Frontline) created a deeply personal and moving portrait of Norma, an immigrant from Honduras who fled due to gang violence and is now a mother in the United States navigating the interconnected systemic issues of immigration, criminal justice, and homelessness in the midst of COVID-19. It is ultimately a story about a mother trying to do what is best for her family, something infinitely relatable—while also exposing the injustices in the systems we have.
— Nathalie Applewhite, Strategic Director of Development
This heartwarming story of Antonella Bordon, who had her first haircut at the age of 12 when her school in Buenos Aires finally reopened after lockdown, highlights the beauty seen during the pandemic by exploring cultural and familial traditions and the importance of oral history. It also chronicles the education crisis and inequality gap exposed by the pandemic in Argentina during one of the longest government-enforced lockdowns in the world.
— Sarah Swan, Director of Communications and Audience Engagement
The New Authoritarians
This story received a Pulitzer Prize, and there is no doubt about the reasons for such recognition: It reports about one of the most worrying human rights violations taking place in our days. It is a full investigation with courageous interviews blended with rigorous data collection and analysis. A multidisciplinary team that looks at the issue using skills from architecture, journalism, and geography.
— Gustavo Faleiros, Environment Investigations Editor
This Gateway Journalism Review project is the most comprehensive account of our failures, nationwide, to hold police accountable for abuses they commit. It also reflects full use of the Pulitzer Center model, from its reliance on professional and student journalists to deep data analysis and a commitment to giving a traumatic issue the full historical context it requires. The project was masterfully led by long-time Pulitzer Center partner William H. Freivogel.
– Jon Sawyer, Executive Director
Gloria Browne-Marshall uses her skills as a journalist, educator, and playwright to bring a kind of quiet wisdom to one of America’s enduring tragedies—the violence that African Americans have for too long endured at the hands of law enforcement.
— Tom Hundley, Senior Editor
Despite hearing on the news that the elderly, who have multiple risk factors, are the most vulnerable to COVID, we do not often see stories of older incarcerated people. Through her portraiture, Natalie Keyssar elevates real voices to highlight injustices in health and criminal justice. I've also been honored to hear Keyssar share her work with students and see its impact firsthand.
– Hayle Wesolowski, K-12 Educational Coordinator
This was a deeply personal story documenting a couple's experience living next to a tear gas factory. It painted a nuanced picture of many Americans’ changing relationship with state violence. I thought for a long time about how David Laurie's worldview fundamentally shifted due to his family's home proximity to the violence that came in the form of noise, smells, and weapons.
– Katherine Jossi, Intern
Tracked is a project that dives deep into the problems that artificial intelligence poses on communities. While AI is being used to solve many problems in our world, the use of it still leaves room for grave error, especially when used unethically and with bias. This story looks at the case of a Black man who, like many other Black men, was wrongfully accused and sentenced. This time, his case was largely reliant on information and evidence provided by security video. This story is important because it speaks to the realities that many minorities are facing in a "progressive" world. It reminds us and proves that although we are making strides in beneficial areas like AI, there is still an embedded root of racism and prejudice that affects everything we do in this country.
– Shana Joseph, Communications & Marketing Assistant
Post and Courier grantees trace the life of enslaved Muslim scholar Omar Ibn Said from South Carolina back to his birthplace in the deserts of northern Senegal. This remarkable reporting documents the importance of returning historical memory—not just plundered artifacts—to African nations confronting the legacy of the slave trade.
– Ethan Ehrenhaft, Development and Impact Assistant
This story is my favorite because of the impact I saw it have in classrooms. Teachers I worked with who were already teaching about the history and lasting impact of slavery used this reporting to talk about the many enslaved Black people who were Muslim and the connected ancestries in the African diaspora. There were lots of beautiful and meaningful student connections being made.
– Donnalie Jamnah, K-12 Partnerships Manager and 1619 Education Network Manager
This innovative multilingual project, which involved some 4,000 community members in Chicago, addresses inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines among Black and brown communities in the city. It’s a stunning model of community-centered service journalism.
— Mark Schulte, Education Director
Natasha S. Alford’s reporting highlights the diversity within the Latinx community, with a focus on the Afro-Latinx/Afro-Puerto Rican experience. When you look at Latinx media there is barely any representation of Afro-Latinx people. As someone who grew up in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood, I knew from an early age that the media is not representative of the diversity within the Latinx community. Alford’s film asks really important questions relating to representation, identity, and discrimination within the Latinx community.
— Maryel Cardenas, K-12 Education Program Assistant
This documentary highlights the story of Manuel Liñán, a queer flamenco dancer on a journey to deliver a powerful performance. As a man practicing a traditionally female dance, Liñán overcomes the constraints and expectations of gender norms while grappling with the possibility of judgment and rejection for practicing and sharing his art. This film resonates deeply and captures many facets of being a queer person in a traditional society; being shut out from certain practices that one admires greatly; and the conflict that comes with pursuing something traditionally deemed shameful. This film highlights the beauty and talent Liñán commands over dance and cements his role within the flamenco performing arts.
— Daniel Vasta, Multimedia and Digital Marketing Coordinator
Environment and Climate Change
This report by just one journalist denounces the abuses of an industry against Indigenous populations in the interior of Maranhão. Sabrina Felipe won the Vladimir Herzog prize, one of the most important in Brazil.
— Verónica Goyzueta, Amazon Rainforest Journalism Fund Coordinator
What does a giant iceberg off Greenland’s coast have to do with the Lowcountry of South Carolina? A lot—and none of it good. The Post and Courier’s Tony Bartelme and photojournalist Lauren Petracca take readers on a vivid tour of Greenland’s melting polar ice to explain the threat it poses for low-lying communities like Charleston 3,000 miles away.
— Steve Sapienza, Senior Strategist, Collaborative News Partnerships
With amazing photographs to illustrate, this story exemplifies how to expose the destructive forces behind deforestation in all their complexities. We hear and see from a Brazilian rancher who does not see anything wrong with what he is doing (in the context of Brazil's policies to encourage people to lift themselves from poverty by exploiting the rainforest), experience the regulation loopholes in action, and follow the international supply chain all the way to the end product.
— Jelter Meers, Editorial Coordinator for Rainforest Investigations Network
This story illustrates how an important but complicated issue can be explained in an engaging way by using a perfect blend of data visualization, interactive applications, animated graphics, and multimedia elements. It also works nicely on different screen sizes. The story content combines both data analysis and stories from villagers affected by the Thai forest policy, providing a smooth, friendly, and informative reading experience.
— Kuang Keng Kuek Ser, Data Editor, Rainforest Investigations Network
The power of reforestation reminds us to always see and conceptualize the bigger picture even when nature becomes fragmented. Rainforest Journalism Fund grantee Alexandra Radu's photojournalism narrates a powerful story regarding how a local community initative cultivates a feminist sense of resilience against the gloomy backdrop of environmental destruction in Malaysia.
— Kymberley Chu, Rainforest Journalism Fund Intern
Through text and portraits, Boston University Reporting Fellow Kayla Hui highlights the stories and struggles of Chinese immigrant truck drivers in New York City. Amid a pandemic that has exacerbated our mental health crisis, this story brings a critical issue to light.
– Libby Moeller, Reporting Fellow Editorial Coordinator
Children and Youth
Ann Babe's reporting sheds light on an issue that has been hiding in plain sight for decades: An estimated 170,000 international Korean adoptees, one of the largest transnational, transracial adoptee populations to date, have been left behind to struggle with the trauma of loss and displacement in isolation that led to a heightened risk of depression and suicide. The story follows the solidarity among Korean adoptees that helped save many lives despite the lack of institutionalized support.
– Boyoung Lim, Senior Editor
In this episode of Reveal, Sandy Tolan takes us to the Dominican Republic and shows us the poor living and working conditions Haitian workers face at Central Romana, the biggest sugar exporter to the U.S. We learn about the missing pensions, the lack of health care, the $3-a-day pay, the human trafficking, and the cycle of forced labor. What is the cost of our sugar habit?
— Jackie Calderon, Editorial Coordinator
Hands down one of the most impressive cross-border journalistic collaborations I've ever read. Led by the editorial team at OjoPúblico in Peru, and featuring the work of 15 journalists and seven Indigenous artists across Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, this story gets at the heart of how communities handle existential health threats like the coronavirus pandemic and document their history through art. Also, the whole project is translated into English, Portuguese, and Spanish!
– Leonor Grave, Rainforest Journalism Fund Assistant
This reporting by Karla Mendes, who was also an incredible outreach partner in K-12 schools this year, utilizes compelling interviews and multimedia to explore the rich and diverse stories of Indigenous people living in cities throughout Brazil. The reporting asks readers to reflect on the causes and lasting impacts of invisibilization, and acts as an invaluable reminder of how important it is to actively seek out the stories of communities that are not widely represented in the media.
– Fareed Mostoufi, Associate Director of Education and DEI Lead
This short film is a love letter to community journalism. Created by Léo Hamelin in close partnership with journalists and editors at the Navajo Times, it documents how the paper has kept the Navajo Nation connected despite the pandemic's disproportionate impacts and the unreliability of Internet access. It is a tribute to the power of storytelling—and the importance of who tells the story.
— Hannah Berk, Education Manager
Indigenous communities don't often appear in headlines, and those native to the Southeastern United States are commonly overlooked. For southern Mississippi's community newspaper, grantee Duy Linh Tu uplifts the struggles of the Pointe-Au-Chien nation after Hurricane Ida ahead of a forthcoming film on the tribe's fight to save their land and culture.
– Leilani Rania Ganser, Grants and Impact Coordinator
As Nastasha Senjanovic reminds us, "one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence." With that in mind, it's heartening to learn how stylists are teaching thousands more to identify signs of abuse, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
– Holly Rosewood, Outreach Coordinator
Karen Naundorf and Sarah Pabst focused on a topic that, tragically, is very familiar to Argentine audiences — femicides — and used data analysis, interviews, and stunning photography to dig deeper and expose the power structures that enable violence against women to go unpunished. We learned that about a fifth of 250 women killed in 2020 had filed charges against their aggressors — and that in 13% of femicides this year, the murderer was a member of the security forces.
— Marina Walker Guevara, Executive Editor
This year, I had the opportunity to listen to Natalie Alcoba speak about the project Empowered Household Workers in Argentina during a visit with one of our Campus Consortium partners. Natalie Alcoba and photographer Anita Pouchard Serra capture stories of women in Argentina organizing in response to the economically and medically perilous conditions in the country for those employed as domestic workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Kayla Edwards, Outreach Assistant
Migration and Refugees
Imran Mohammad Fazal Hoque, our Truman College Reporting Fellow and a Rohingya refugee, writes of his own seven-year journey from Myanmar to Chicago by way of a detention center in Indonesia and a camp in Papua New Guinea. Imran has a courageous soul and a gift for words: Telling his story may change the lives of Rohingya refugees here and throughout the diaspora.
– Kem Sawyer, Contributing Editor/Director, Reporting Fellows
This beautiful photojournalism project documents eight female migration narratives, examining the factors that compelled migration and the challenges that women face throughout their respective journeys. The subjects represent eight unique global communities but speak to similar themes of sacrifice, loss, and hope. The project is also a collaborative endeavor, showcasing the work of eight talented female photojournalists.
– Sushmita Mukherjee, Education Coordinator, Chicago