Hannah Arendt argued that public, political speech enabled people to create a common world in which they could act together to shape their shared future by choice and reflection. Only by speaking together could they act together and choose how to live together. In a media landscape fragmented by narrowcasting, fake news, hyper-partisan claim-making, filter bubbles and niche marketing, it is more important than ever that the fourth estate rise to its mandate and convene the public for discussion and debate in a shared arena.
As students of the New School University, where Hannah Arendt's legacy shapes our education, we have chosen to honor those whose work most urgently meets the journalistic demands of our time. The projects we have selected to receive the inaugural Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism Award are among the most far-reaching and impactful work produced this year.
Katie J.M. Baker, national reporter for BuzzFeed News, whose dedicated and nuanced coverage of sexual assault has broken ground in changing the narratives surrounding assault survivors. Her elevation of “the gray area,” as she says in her interview, came at a time when survivors were under pressure from media demands for clear-cut stories.
Shane Bauer, senior reporter at Mother Jones, spent four months undercover as a prison guard at one of the country’s private prisons. What resulted from this stint was a 35,000-word story exposing serious safety and security issues in private prisons, published as an entire issue of Mother Jones magazine in July 2016. One month later, the US Department of Justice announced its plans to phase out private prisons. There was other notable coverage of private prisons this year, such as Seth Freed Wessler’s piece “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die” in The Nation. Nonetheless the risks taken by Bauer in order to present an inside view of notoriously secretive for-profit prisons were uniquely striking and impactful.
The Guardian US team was chosen for their groundbreaking data journalism on the issue of killings by police in their project “The Counted.” They have built a dynamic database tracking these deaths in the US in the absence of comprehensive tracking by the federal government. The Guardian’s work on this issue has continued to drive national conversations around police brutality in 2016, culminating in the announcement by the FBI that they will build a new database documenting cases where people were killed by police.
Jacobin magazine, published by Bhaskar Sunkara, has been a voice in the American left since 2010, though it gained prominence during the 2016 election cycle alongside the Bernie Sanders campaign. Jacobin’s analysis of and engagement with the Sanders campaign fed a growing audience and contributed to a significant shift in the spectrum of possibility in US electoral politics.
We are also awarding the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for their reporting on 11.5 million leaked documents known as “The Panama Papers.” After a year of investigating and piecing the story together through a global network of over 300 reporters, ICIJ’s work sent shockwaves through the world of the rich and powerful. “The Panama Papers” didn’t so much change a conversation as create one, bringing offshore finance to the center of public attention. We now know immeasurably more about how the global elite make and maintain their fortunes.
Finally, Amy Goodman and her team at Democracy Now! are being awarded for their on-the-ground reporting of resistance to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters. After covering the use of pepper spray and dogs by private security guards at Standing Rock, Goodman was issued a warrant for her arrest on riot charges, in what was seen by critics as a blatant attempt to discourage meaningful media coverage. The charges were ultimately dropped, and the struggle over DAPL became headline news across many media outlets. In the context of mounting public pressure, the Obama government’s Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant permits allowing pipeline construction to continue. The impact of Goodman’s reporting continues to encourage journalists to report fairly, fearlessly and on the frontlines.
At the end of 2016, the US media is under intense and deserved scrutiny. In this context, we celebrate the kinds of stories we have recognized here as achievements, but also as models for future work. In the coming months, a new president will take office, changing the political landscape and our personal lives in the immediate future. Investigative journalism and outlets that amplify critical voices are more important now than ever.
—Claudia Marina, Editorial Director, Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism Awards