Words And Pictures

(Warning: graphic image at bottom of page…)

So, I was looking at the winners of this years Pulitzer Prizes – given out yesterday. I was struck by how some of them relate to each other and what these stories and images and their connections  say about the world today.

The traumas too many children face in today’s society was one recurring theme.

For instance the Local Reporting award given to Sara Ganim (only 24 years old!) and Harrisburg Patriot-News Staff she works for. It was given to them for their coverage of the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

In the midst of all the press about that case, maybe we forgot that at the heart of it wasn’t a celebrity coach who made a bad call, but children who were violated in the worst possible way. And then not helped by adults. How often does this happen elsewhere, we have to ask.

Related was the award for public service journalism which went to the staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer for their coverage of  violence in their city’s schools.  The reporters chronicled a system plagued by violence. Over 30,000 incidents in five years!  The award points out another reality: kids these days face violence just being in class, where they’re supposed to be. Teachers are assaulted, too.

And how often is this not even considered newsworthy? “You know how those communities are…”

So I have the biggest respect for these winners, because they dug and they persisted and they reported the truth about horrible things happening to vulnerable people.  By shedding light reporters force people with power to do better. They force accountability on all of us. We can’t say we didn’t know anymore, just that we didn’t do anything when we got the knowledge.

That is the  media at its best.

The other recurring theme among award winners was war.

I think this is important. How often do we think about war – the one we’re in, others around the world? Many people say we support our troops- but sometimes I wonder where’s the proof? National candidates have barely mentioned Afghanistan as they move on to maybe bombing somewhere else.  Nick Kristof (Pulitzer finalist this year)  just had an article this past weekend about the suicide rate of American service members home from war.  It’s shocking to know how hard it is for troops looking for mental health help to get it.

Two winning writers are among those who cannot be accused of letting war and its veterans fade out of sight.

One was Huffington Post contributor and previously embedded journalist David Wood for his “riveting exploration of the physical and emotional challenges facing American soldiers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade of war. ”  A story too many people aren’t talking about.

The second handled the topic in a different way. Playwright (and past finalist) Quiara Alegría Hudes was awarded for Water By The Spoonful,  an installment of a trilogy about a returning Iraq veteran and his struggles to re-establish his life.

But maybe the most powerful statement on both what children go through and the terrible toll of war goes not to a piece of writing at all, but to this year’s winner for breaking news photography,  Massoud Hossaini.  It is a picture that combines both themes, coincidentally. And it really is worth a thousand words, and I think it speaks for itself here loud and clear:

Ashural Bombing 12/6/11 Massoud Hossaini

Words and pictures have power. All of us who use them, who are lucky enough to have the freedom and the means to use them, need to take seriously both that responsibility and that opportunity.

Thanks for reading.



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