2020 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom finalist

The Washington Post

About the Project

A years-long quest to obtain recordings of secret U.S. military interviews results in the definitive story of how systemic failures led to thousands of needless American deaths in the Afghanistan War. A months-long court fight, with a small newspaper in West Virginia as an ally, provides records detailing the manufacture, distribution and sale of 76 billion opioid pills that destroyed families all over the country. And a science reporting team, trying to break through people’s lack of urgency about climate change, builds visually compelling, transformative coverage around one life-or-death temperature reading so everyone can understand the danger to the planet.

In the whipsaw news cycle of the past 12 months, with mass shootings, a worldwide pandemic, economic collapse, a presidential impeachment and a Democratic primary, it was hard enough just to cover the news. But the organizations that won the day not only thrived in the daily news tsunami, they also delivered a deep and varied journalistic report.

Outside of a world war, these may be the most exhausting times in the history of journalism, and journalists still must rise above what is expected of us and continue the evolution of storytelling. That meant not only covering the Mueller report in all its dramatic twists and turns but producing a graphic novel that broke new storytelling ground and made the voluminous report accessible to readers.

Covering the coronavirus pandemic required every reporter, photographer and videographer we could find. But we also built a social distancing graphic that was so effective it was translated into 15 languages and became our most-read piece ever. And we took one of the world’s best narrative writers, Eli Saslow, and silenced his own words so the voices of the people struggling during the pandemic could be better heard in first person.

We covered every second of Elon Musk’s determined pursuit of space exploration. But we also created a NASA podcast that explained why science-fiction writing was as much a part of the space race as any astronaut. And we partnered with the Discovery Channel on a documentary that aired during launch week and then did our own launch show.

Even with the opioids story, it wasn’t enough to build a one-of-a-kind database tracking who made and distributed the pills. We made it downloadable so other media companies without our resources could apply the information to their communities.

Surviving this news cycle required stamina, concentration and an unwavering belief in our mission. But we also launched a new esports vertical and unleashed a TikTok account that garnered more than 520,000 followers.

As the time frame for this contest came to a close, a new, perhaps even-bigger story emerged as mass protests followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We at The Washington Post know we will need to cover every inch of the story. But we also were first with a frame-by-frame video
reconstruction of the incident because that is what it takes to be the best.