Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project and T. Christian Miller of ProPublica have been awarded a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for their joint reporting project, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” Tom Robbins of The Marshall Project was also named a Pulitzer finalist in the investigative reporting category for his series with New York Times writers Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz on the culture of violence in upstate New York prisons.
This is the first Pulitzer for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization with a staff of 25. Launched in November 2014, The Marshall Project’s mission is to create and sustain a sense of urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system through non-partisan journalism.
“Armstrong and Miller’s article about a rape that was not believed, and the stories by Tom Robbins, Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz on guard abuse in New York State, underscore the critical role the press can play in launching public discourse about our system of crime and punishment.” said Neil Barsky, TMP’s chairman and founder. “I’m proud of the role The Marshall Project, under the leadership of Bill Keller, is playing in bringing these stories to light.”
“The rape story and the articles on prison brutality remind us that — in a time of shrinking attention spans — deep, patient reporting and great storytelling can win readers and bring results,” said Bill Keller, TMP’s editor-in-chief. “This work also reinforces the growing sense that journalistic collaboration is, to borrow a military term, a force multiplier.”
“An Unbelievable Story of Rape” is the account of a failed police investigation and the trail of hurt and humiliation that followed. This 12,000-word piece tells the story of a young woman who reported being raped at knifepoint in her apartment, only to be disbelieved by police, and later prosecuted for lying to the authorities. Years later, two relentless female detectives in Colorado arrested a man suspected of raping a series of women and discovered that the original victim was telling the truth all along.
The project did not begin as a collaboration. Armstrong and Miller discovered midway through their reporting that they were pursuing the same story from different ends and chose to work together rather than compete. The result is a suspenseful, braided narrative that reveals the best, and worst, of policing. It also explores the corrosive impact of doubt as it spreads within a family and community, which This American Life expanded on in their version of the story, “Anatomy of Doubt.”
“Unbelievable” generated an outpouring of reader response, including from educators who said they planned to use the article in instructing police trainees, hospital trauma units and university students in how to deal sensitively with rape victims.
The Marshall Project was also a finalist for a series with The New York Times on violence in upstate New York prisons. In Attica’s Ghosts, Robbins exposed the brutal beating of an inmate and the culture of impunity that protects the majority of prison guards from consequences for their actions. Subsequent stories revealed the power of the guards union and the near impossibility of firing abusive correctional officers. These articles led to meaningful action by state and federal authorities: Investigators are looking into the beatings at Attica (and other prisons); the state is changing the way it tracks inmate complaints to enable officials to identify problem officers more easily; and 500 security cameras were installed at Attica.
“An Unbelievable Story of Rape” also won the George Polk Award for justice reporting; the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) Award for nondeadline writing; the Mike Berger Award for in-depth, human interest reporting; and the Al Nakkula Award for police reporting. The story was also a finalist for each of the following: the National Magazine Award for feature writing; the Taylor Family Award for fairness in journalism; and the Dart Award for excellence in coverage of trauma.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the category for which Tom Robbins, Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz were nominated.