The 2020 Polk Awards Celebrated in a New Way
By Allan Nosoff | Editor-In-Chief
The winners of LIU’s prestigious Journalism awards, the George Polk Awards, were highlighted by an at-home video ceremony released on April 18.
The Polk Awards Ceremony Luncheon, typically held at New York’s historic Roosevelt Hotel in early April, was cancelled, along with the David J. Steinberg Seminar, due to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic across the nation.
Polk Awards curator, John Darnton, noted, “when our judges convened back in Brooklyn in January, we had no idea that now nearly three months later, the whole world would be turned into such turmoil.”
The Polk Awards organizers traditionally present the winners with their award at the Ceremony Luncheon, and the winners speak on behalf of their exquisite work. But this year, organizers and winners recorded a video from their homes to honor the 2020 awardees.
Winner of the Local Reporting Award, for his work on exposing a NYC taxi price-gouging plot, Brian M. Rosenthal of The New York Times, said, “It is weird to be celebrating anything now.”
Out of 551 submissions throughout 2019, 15 of those stories, developed by 23 reporters, earned the prestigious George Polk Award.
Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico, won the award for Environmental Reporting, emphasizing the ignored calls for action to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the role of climate change, harming productivity of ~600 million American farmers. Evich said, “It all started when I was driving home from visiting my grandmother in Western Pennsylvania.”
With some spare time, Evich called a source, who is a scientist who worked on a USDA study, and they said, “USDA department officials went out of their way to dissuade coverage of it.”
The award for Political Reporting was shared by Chance Swaim, Jonathan Shorman and Dion Lefler of The Wichita Eagle and Luke Broadwater and the staff of The Baltimore Sun, for two shocking stories of municipal misconduct which led to the resignation of Wichita and Baltimore’s mayors.
Broadwater, in the video with his daughter Danielle, said, “We uncovered a self-dealing scam at the University of Maryland Medical System through a combination of tips and source reporting...it promoted widespread change within the state of Maryland.”
In addition to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation, “The CEO of Maryland’s largest hospital system resigned, as did many of the top lieutenants there; sweeping reform legislation passed, that caused the entire board of directors at the hospital system to turn over.”
Darnton also added, “Now more than ever, we need more truth-seekers and truth-tellers...We need access to a free-flow of honest, accurate information.”
As the United States slowly rebounds from the pandemic, reporters will be tasked with sharing stories of grieving families, recovering businesses, and shady scams. Rosenthal said, “It is going to be more important than ever for local journalism to be there as we pick up the pieces from this catastrophe.” Submissions for the 2021 Polk Awards will open in mid-October.
To see the full list of the 2020 George Polk Awards winners, visit https://liu.edu/george-polk-awards/winners.