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The Hometown Hero of the Pulitzer Prizes

Yesterday, the Pulitzer committee released its 101st class of prize winners. Here’s how the august body describes their work: “Through its rigorous annual selection process, the Pulitzer Board identifies America’s strongest journalistic and creative work, from gritty reportage and photography to transporting fiction, poetry, drama and music.”

Anyone who is not a fan of the “failing New York Times,” the “phony Washington Post,” or the “left-wing blog” ProPublica were disappointed in the results. Here’s the whole list.

Scanning the winners, it’s impossible not to see a recurring theme around race, class, justice, and the quest for understanding. A series by The New York Daily News and ProPublica exposed widespread abuse by the New York Police Department. Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail won for a series about the opioid abuse epidemic in West Virginia, an investigation which took years. Hilton Als of the New Yorker – with his extraordinary ability to parse race, gender, and sexuality – won for his body of work as a drama reviewer.

Work exploring poverty and working class alienation also earned several awards. Lynn Nottage won for her play “Sweat” which explores life in Reading, PA, a community devastated by manufacturing job losses. (After the presidential election, she spoke with Fortune about what she has learned about white, working class America, here.) Sociologist Matthew Desmond won for “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” a meticulously reported investigation that follows eight Milwaukee families as they try to make rent, and reveals the system that keeps them poor. This photo series, from E. Jason Wambsgans of the Chicago Tribune, about a 10-year-old boy recovering from a gunshot wound, will break your heart.

And yes, Colson Whitehead is having his best year ever, and deserves it.

But I found myself marveling at the inclusion of Art Cullen, the publisher and lead editorial writer of a tiny paper called The Storm Lake Times. Twice a week, it hits the mail and in-boxes of the good folks of Storm Lake, Iowa, a rural area of 10,000 people living in the state’s northwest. Cullen consistently takes aim at inadequate politicians and Big Agriculture, taking no prisoners while defending the immigrants who now make up 20% of the Storm Lake population.

It’s a small business. The paper has a circulation of 3,000 – and, after losing hours to reading it yesterday, now 3,001. Cullen is a Storm Lake native and he owns the paper with his brother. It’s become a full-on family affair; his wife is a photographer and his son is a reporter on staff. I sure hope this Pulitzer business doesn’t go to his head, but I think that might be unlikely. Here’s one of his greatest graphs:

Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion.

His editorials prove, time and time again, that all politics are local. The best reporting is too. In the example above, the villains were The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors, who “appear to have a religious tenet that drainage districts shall not be regulated.” He then goes on to call Senator Chuck Grassley a “doddering fool who needs to go.”

But now, Cullen, 59, has achieved the same level of journalistic heft as has The Wall Street Journal’s esteemed Peggy Noonan, who also won this year. They have very different styles and readerships, of course. And Noonan has well and truly seen some things. But speaking truth to a powerful person is a dicier proposition if you run the risk of bumping into them at the Piggly Wiggly later that week. Nothing against Noonan, but Art Cullen is exactly the kind hometown journalist so many kids dreamed of becoming when they grew up – the kind that knows dirty water when they see it and isn’t afraid to say so. That it can still happen locally and matter globally is the best news to come out of the Pulitzers in years.

On Point

Google releases a statement on pay equityEileen Naughton, Google’s vice president of people operations, has published a new statement addressing the accusation from the Department of Labor that the tech company has been discriminating against its female employees. “We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” a DoL director testified on Friday. In response, Naughton said in her statement, “We were taken aback by this assertion, which came without any supporting data or methodology.” She goes on to detail their annual compensation methodology, in which analysts propose a new compensation number based on role, job level, location and performance ratings, but that are blind to gender. “The fact is that our annual analysis is extremely scientific and robust. It relies on the same confidence interval that is used in medical testing (>95%).” Click through for the whole statement.Google Blog

Kenya’s tech corridor gets a for-profit reboot
The homegrown tech community known as the Silicon Savannah is hitting the mental reset button, after a decade of high-profile investment that yielded few breakthrough companies. Now, iHub, the local tech incubator, is turning away from its social enterprise roots – they were started by the group of activists behind Ushahidi – and looking to amplify for-profit tech ideas. “It is true we had some companies that were more excited about headlines and about what new widget would solve the problems of the world,” said Kenya’s Central Bank Governor. “What we’ve been pushing is for companies to focus on a particular problem. It’s more sustainable.” Both Facebook and Google have an alliance with iHub to train developers, IBM and Mastercard are also training future coders in the fin-tech space and beyond.
Wall Street Journal

Dispatch from Cairo: It’s hard out here for an activist
Award-winning journalist Borzou Daragahi reports on what he’s calling the Arab Winter and the quest for peace and governance in a post-Trump Middle east. “These are grim, trying times for democracy activists in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East,” he writes. The space for dissent, he says, has been largely eliminated. “In late November, Sisi’s rubber-stamp parliament adopted a draconian law on non-government organizations that if enacted would effectively shutter any independent human rights or civil society groups,” he writes. “With Trump’s election, civil society and democratic forces in Egypt and elsewhere have really lost something,” says one leftist activist. “Whether we admit it or not, it does make a difference who’s in the White House.”
Buzzfeed

AT&T to give $1 million to an underrepresented filmmaker on April 18
They’re teaming with the Tribeca Film Festival to underwrite the “Untold Stories” program, a multi-year effort to discover scripts by minorities and women filmmakers. Five finalists will have ten heart-pounding minutes to pitch their projects to a panel of judges on April 18,  the winner will present their film at the 2018 festival. The pitches will be live-streamed on Tribeca’s Facebook page starting at 9 a.m. ET. Click through to learn more about the five projects; although they all sound amazing, “Forever Even Longer” the story of an elderly Mexican man trying to make peace after the death of his gay, estranged son, would probably get my vote. What say you?
Variety

New Mexico outlaws school lunch shaming; we should all be like New Mexico
School lunch shaming happens when a child’s family can’t pay their school lunch bill. A child steps up to get their lunch, swipes their ID card, and the system flags them as delinquent. And the stories are horrific. Some schools force children to clean the cafeteria in front of their peers. Other jurisdictions require that the food be thrown away in front of them. Other kids are forced to wear a sticker or other form of humiliating identification. New Mexico’s governor Susana Martinez signed legislation banning the practice, the first in the nation. It applies to public, private, and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for any breakfast or lunch they provide.
New York Times

 

The Woke Leader

A heartfelt Twitter thread inspired people to pay off student school lunch debt to the tune of $100,000
We reported on this last month, but it’s worth remembering how simple acts of kindness work miracles. After writer Ashley Ford tweeted this last December, “A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off,” people did, paying over $100,000 in small, necessary gifts. They also shared their own stories of being that shamed kid. Kids weren’t the only happy people. “[J]ust called my district to ask about it and the Accounts manager cried. Not obtuse at all—grateful,” tweeted Kate Schatz.
CNBC

MTV eliminates gender specific award categories and so should everyone else
The MTV Movie and TV Awards, which air on May 7, are eliminating separate categories for male and female performances. They’ve tried this before, in 2006 and 2007, and they’ve also added categories that don’t require gender, like “Best Comedic Performance” or “Best Villain” – though women have only one the comedic award three times since 1992. It’s progress, argues Time’s Eliza Berman, and it’s time for other award shows to follow suit. And no, having two categories is not the only way for women to get the recognition they deserve. “[T]his line of thinking is problematic—it’s an attempt to remedy a much deeper issue of systemic exclusion by extending the status quo,” she writes. “Is segregation really the best way we can think of to ensure that awards shows recognize everyone?” 
Time

Sisters doing the work: Jolinda and Diann Wade
In any other life, Jolinda Wade would be best known as the mother of basketball star Dwyane. In their native Chicago, she is also Pastor Wade, trying to save a community wracked by violence, despair, and neglect. But to her sister Diann, she is also the savior of her soul and her spiritual rock. Not long ago, the tables were turned, and it was Diann saving Jolinda from a downward spiral of drugs and crime.  Now, the sisters are working to heal their family and community, as gun violence continues to threaten them all. “They had grown up sharing a bedroom in a small rental house on the South Side of Chicago, two of nine children raised by their mother during the ravages of the drug war. All nine siblings eventually became addicts, but none fell quite as fast as Jolinda.” This tender portrait of two extraordinary women is a must read.
The Undefeated

Quote

Early on in my life, I grew up with my mom. My mom was on drugs and my family was in the gang environment, so it was a rough childhood. If I would have stayed [with my Mom]… I would have been next in line to sell drugs, to join the gang. Moving in with my dad at the age of 9 was probably the most important part of my life. That was at the point and the age that I needed that male voice. I needed the discipline. I needed someone to look at and say, ‘I want to be like you.’
—Dwayne Wade