Austin American-Statesman, USA TODAY Network, honored as Pulitzer finalist for Uvalde coverage

 The Pulitzer Prizes honored the Austin American-Statesman, in collaboration with the USA Today Network, on Monday as a finalist for the award's Gold Medal for meritorious public service, the nation's most prestigious journalism honor, for its groundbreaking coverage of the Uvalde mass shooting.

The publication was one of two finalists for the honor, which the prize board awarded to a reporting team from the Associated Press for its courageous and life-threatening reporting in Ukraine. The second finalist was the Washington Post for a series on the nation's fentanyl epidemic. 

Lyndsay C. Green of the Detroit Free Press, also a member of the USA Today Network, was also honored as a finalist for the award for criticism.

The Statesman was honored for bringing truth and accountability to the flawed law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24, including through the publication of a hallway video from Robb Elementary School obtained by investigative reporter Tony Plohetski that showed the policing breakdown. The publication also dismantled a narrative of police heroism, amplified the voices of the grieving community, and provided key information in Spanish to the majority Hispanic community.

"The greatest respect we could show the Uvalde community and the families of those who lost their loved ones was to expose the failure by authorities and to hold those and power to account for their actions and words," Statesman Executive Editor Manny García said. "Our team is humbled and honored to be recognized by the Pulitzer judges and board for the most distinguished of honors: meritorious public service."

Confronted with unprecedented ethical and editorial decisions, the Statesman was the first outlet in the nation to publish the 77-minute video from inside the school that showed officers pacing the hall, checking their phones and looking at floorplans -- but not entering the classroom where the gunman shot 19 children and two teachers as police are trained.

The video shifted the public narrative dramatically and forced officials, who initially hailed police as heroes and were not forthcoming about the police inaction, to confront the full truth of what happened.

The Statesman jointly published the video with Austin television station KVUE, where Plohetski works in partnership.

García also mobilized Spanish-speaking journalists to expeditiously translate the first comprehensive government report about the shooting. When members of a Texas House investigative committee presented the report to the Uvalde residents, many in the majority-Hispanic community sought it in Spanish. Committee members said they needed two weeks to complete the work, but the Statesman, working with the USA TODAY network, translated the document and printed 10,000 free copies within four days. Statesman journalists loaded their own cars and distributed the translations throughout Uvalde restaurants, shops and public buildings.

The Statesman's work also examined the lack of transparency in the investigation, including the use of non-disclosure agreements for lawmakers to obtain the investigative file from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and analyzed a growing trend of secrecy among law enforcement agencies statewide. The publication used its editorial voice to call for accountability and reform.

"We are eternally thankful to sources who provided vital information about what happened at Robb Elementary on May 24, and to grieving families who trusted us with their stories," Plohetski said. "Our thoughts are with them."

Statesman journalists have recently received other national honors for their Uvalde work, including the Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Journalism awarded through Harvard University.

The National Press Foundation honored García in February as the Ben Bradlee Editor of the Year for leading what it called the Statesman's "audacious and inclusive" coverage. Plohetski was named a finalist for the Anthony Shadid Award in Journalism Ethics, received a Sidney Award and was named Star Reporter of the Year by Texas Managing Editors and the Texas Headliners Foundation. Statesman politics reporter Niki Griswold was last month named a finalist for the Livingston Award for young journalists for her collection of stories after the shooting.

The Pulitzer Prize, administered by Columbia University, was established in 1917.

The honor marks the first time in the Statesman's 152-year history that it has been a Pulitzer finalist for news reporting.

Editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent won the Pulitzer in 1982 and was a finalist in 2001 and 2002 while at the Statesman.

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