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The Best Journalism of 2021 Celebrated at the George Polk Awards

Updated: Apr 13, 2022


Jeff Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal giving his acceptance speech. He and a team of reporters uncovered issues within the social media giant Meta, in a series of articles called “The Facebook Files.” (Photo: Ryan Kelley)

On Friday, April 8, the annual George Polk Awards luncheon was held to celebrate some of the incredible journalistic achievements of 2021.

After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the award ceremony was back to being held in-person and almost all awardees were present and on stage.

Ralph Engelman, faculty coordinator of the George Polk Awards, was thrilled to once again be able to host the luncheon.

“I thought it was particularly exciting, number one because of the great roster of winners, and number two that it was in-person. The gathering of the fourth estate, the crème de la crème of investigative reporting in person, is very inspiring,” said Engelman after the ceremony.

The George Polk Awards and Long Island University, that has been presenting the award for over 70 years, had a new award to give out this year. The inaugural Sydney H. Schanberg prize for “exceptional and passionate long-form investigative or enterprise journalism,” named after war reporter Sydney Schanberg, was awarded Luke Mogelson of The New Yorker, for his story on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Mogelson was one of the recipients unable to physically attend the luncheon, but he sent an acceptance speech-video from Ukraine from where he is currently reporting.

One after the other, the awardees were called up on stage to accept their plaques.

The thank you-speeches were varied: some gave insight into their reporting process, others praised the importance of investigative journalism, and one, notably, roasted the Phoenix Police department for its questionable practices, a sequence that made much of the audience laugh.

A stamp of George Polk, who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece. (Photo: LIU)

After the ceremony was over, Seawanhaka reporters got a chance to speak to some of the winners.

Maria Abi-Habib from The New York Times, who shared the award for foreign reporting with fellow Times journalist Frances Robles, said that while she was happy for the award, to her it was about something bigger than herself.

“While it feels wonderful, It’s more important to me that Haiti won the award rather than myself,” she said.

Jeff Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal received the George Polk award for business reporting for his investigative series called “The Facebook files.” He highlighted the legacies of George Polk and previous awardees.

“Given the history and actual bravery of a lot of the people who did this work, it almost feels a little silly to be getting it for something where the worst that I was going to receive was a serious tounge-lashing from Facebook PR. But I mean, this is definitely the most impressive award I've ever gotten,” he said.

Local and regional reporting was also celebrated at the ceremony. The two-person team of Daniel Chang and Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald received plaques for the state reporting award.

Chang recognized the importance of the prize: “It continues to bring attention to these types of stories that help people who otherwise wouldn't really have a voice and may not be known about. Its amazing how much of an impact it had on people’s lives for something that was not very well-known.”

The New York Times also won the award for military reporting, for its story on U.S. air strikes in the Middle East. Azmat Khan, a freelancer who played a vital role in writing the story as an on-the-ground reporter, echoed Chang’s message.

“It’s a recognition of the fact that this work matters, that the costs of our wars should be an editorial priority. So the recognition here means a lot,” she said.

On a question of what young journalists can learn from the reporting of his story, Dave Philipps, also part of the team that won the prize for military reporting, highlighted two things: the value of persistence and essential team work.

“Whenever we do reporting on stuff that is secret or top secret, you expect to fail much more often than you succeed. And i think that its very easy to get the idea that because you're failing that your project is a failure. Not always,” Philipps said, and continued:

“The other thing that was really helpful to me is realizing what other people's strengths are and trying to work together — you only win.”

The other half of the Miami Herald team, Carol Marbin Miller, said that journalists must realize the importance of people.

“Find the people, highlight the people. They're what his kind of journalism is all about. and without their stories, it will have no power," Miller said.

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