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Post and Courier staff named Pulitzer Prize finalist for series on flooding

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Smith Street flooding.jpg (copy) (copy) (copy)

Smith Street is flooded from heavy rains on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The Post and Courier was named Friday as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prizes — journalism’s highest honor — for its Rising Waters series that explored the effects of climate-driven flooding on the Charleston region. 

The newspaper's staff was recognized in the local reporting category for its work on the project, which was published between April and December of last year. Rising Waters documented how the accelerating forces of climate change pose an existential threat to the Lowcountry, from wetter hurricanes to “rain bombs” to flooding high tides.

The project, which involved a wide cast of journalists from throughout The Post and Courier newsroom, took a unique approach that melded investigative reporting with breaking coverage to expose this creeping threat in real time. Each installment was tied to a flooding event, revealing the science, politics and economics of climate change’s detrimental impact on the Charleston area in a very immediate way.

The judges called the series "an ambitious look at how water levels in the city were rising faster than previously thought that also explored the broader social, environmental and regulatory challenges posed by climate change."

Among other things, the stories exposed the harmful bacteria inside floodwaters and the disproportionate impacts on underprivileged communities. They explained the dire threats posed to the state’s most important medical complex. And they showed how the shrinking tree canopy in the Charleston area has impacted the region’s ability to soak up and drain water.

The Pulitzer Center for Investigative Reporting helped fund the project, with a grant as part of its national Connected Coastline initiative. This allowed the team to produce explainer videos, a graphic novella and a first-ever analysis of disease-carrying bacteria in sunny day floods.

Rising Waters had previously been recognized with a prestigious Scripps Howard Awards for excellence in environmental reporting. 

The top prize in the Pulitzer's local reporting category went to the Tampa Bay Times for reporting that exposed how a powerful and politically connected sheriff built a secretive intelligence operation that harassed residents. Also named a finalist was the Los Angeles Times, for exposing failures in Los Angeles County’s safety-net health care system that resulted in monthslong wait times for patients, including some who died.

The Post and Courier was named the 2015 Pulitzer recipient for public service journalism for “Till Death Do Us Part,” a series of stories about the toll domestic violence takes on women in South Carolina.

In all, the newspaper has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including the 1925 Pulitzer for Editorial Writing, and has been a finalist six times since 2011.

The winners and finalists were announced at Columbia University in New York.

The Pulitzer recognizes the best journalism in newspapers, magazines, books and websites. There are 15 categories for reporting, photography, criticism and commentary.

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

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