The Post and Courier on Monday was awarded the year’s most prestigious Pulitzer Prize for its series about the deadly toll that domestic violence takes on South Carolina women.
The Public Service gold medal went to the newspaper for its “Till Death Do Us Part” articles that were published across five editions in August. Reporters Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff authored the series.
Their work told the tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.
A panel of seven judges from news media and academia called the newspaper’s work “riveting.”
“We are humbled and honored to receive such distinguished praise,” Mitch Pugh, the newspaper’s executive editor, said. “But this series was really about making safer the lives of women in South Carolina.”
“To see our infamously intransigent state Legislature jump into action was deeply rewarding.”
“We hope we will see the ultimate prize soon: meaningful legislation that will help our state move forward.”
It was the first Pulitzer in 90 years for the newspaper, which distributes 85,000 copies daily and 92,000 on Sunday.
The honor was announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal also were finalists in the category.
Last year’s Public Service prize was awarded to The Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian for exposing a National Security Agency surveillance effort described in documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The Post and Courier was last awarded a Pulitzer in 1925, when it won the Editorial Writing honor for “Plight of the South.” Reporter Tony Bartelme was twice a finalist, in 2011 for his series about a neurosurgeon’s work to teach brain surgery in Tanzania and in 2013 for his yearlong “Storm of Money” series about the insurance industry.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement,” publisher P.J. Browning said of this year’s prize. “Our newsroom has done an incredible job on behalf of South Carolina in drawing attention to this important issue and helping to make change. I know there was a lot of heart and soul that went into the reporting. We are humbled by the recognition of the award and for the brave people that shared their incredible stories with us.”
The four reporters and other journalists at the newspaper started delving into the issue in September 2013, when the Violence Policy Center ranked South Carolina No. 1 in the nation in the rate of women killed by men.
The reporting team built a database of slaying victims and investigated the legal, political, cultural and economic factors that fueled the problem.
Lawmakers quickly formed a study panel and sponsored measures to reverse South Carolina’s distinction as a state with laws that are notoriously soft on domestic abusers.
The bills, though, have stalled. Among one of the sticking points is a provision that would remove guns from the abusers’ homes.
“This is a humbling honor for me, my teammates and The Post and Courier,” Pardue said of Monday’s announcement, “but it may ultimately be meaningless if the state’s General Assembly doesn’t pass the domestic violence law reform bills it has on its table.”
During its investigation, the newspaper sought input on its work from Mark Katches, then the director of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting. Katches helped edit the series, and Jennifer LaFleur, the center’s senior editor for data journalism, provided database training. The center also gave funding for data research and print graphics.
Pugh addressed a crowded newsroom Monday, saying that it took “a lot of folks to make this happen.”
“A great deal of credit should go to our ownership,” Pugh added. “This is a family-owned, privately held company that cares deeply about the journalism it produces. Without that kind of unparalleled support, we couldn’t do the kind of work we are doing today.”
The Boston Globe also was nominated as a finalist in the category for “its stories, videos, photos and graphics exposing a poorly regulated, profit-driven housing system that subjected thousands of college students in Boston to unsafe, and even deadly, conditions,” the Pulitzer judges wrote.
They also lauded The Wall Street Journal, another finalist whose stellar “Deadly Medicine” project documented the cancer risk that a common surgery poses to women and prompted a change in the prescribed medical treatment, the judges wrote.
The Post and Courier’s series has previously been awarded the George Polk Award; the 2015 John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim Award for “Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting;” a first-place honor for investigative journalism in the 2014 EPPY Awards sponsored by Editor and Publisher; and September’s Sidney Award from The Sidney Hillman Foundation, which honors excellence in journalism in service of the common good.
“For a paper the size of The Post and Courier to win the top Pulitzer Prize shows its reporting measures up to major American newspapers,” said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association. “But they do good reporting on a daily basis. They make our state proud.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.