The photo staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography Monday for its chronicle of the extended protests and violence that followed the shooting death last Aug. 9 of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
The staff of eight photographers and three editors submitted a gallery of 19 photos from the shooting scene, street protests, funeral, arson fires and other settings of social conflict that continued for months.
In announcing the prize at Columbia University in New York, the 18-member Pulitzer Prize Board honored the photo staff "for powerful images of the despair and anger in Ferguson, MO, stunning photojournalism that served the community while informing the country."
The unarmed Brown, 18, was shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation on a street in the Canfield Green apartments in Ferguson. Community anger spilled onto West Florissant Avenue, which became the site for nightly tense encounters between protesters and police officers. Protests spilled onto other streets and areas of the metro area.
Among the Post-Dispatch images submitted were two that flashed around the world — a photo by David Carson of an armed looter inside a QuikTrip shortly before it was torched, and another by Robert Cohen of a protester hurling a tear-gas canister that had been fired by police.
Breaking news photography is one of 14 categories awarded in journalism. The board named as finalists for editorial writing two Post-Dispatch editorial writers, Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan, "for editorials that brought insight and context to the national tragedy of Ferguson, MO, without losing sight of the community’s needs..."
The award to the photo staff is the 18th won by the Post-Dispatch since the Pulitzer prizes were established in 1917.
Shortly after the winners were announced, Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon congratulated the photographers and the rest of the staff "for doing such tremendous work under a difficult situation ... This has been hard work because the community is very divided right now. The kind of work we have done across the board in every department has been outstanding."
Bailon honored the photographers "for putting their lives on the line."
The news staff gathered around a television screen at 2 p.m., when Pulitzer Prize administrator Mike Pride announced the winners. Post-Dispatch staff members have been named as finalists seven times since 1989, when the newspaper last won a Pulitzer for publishing a photograph of a fire scene by a free-lance photographer. The mood in the newsroom became tense as Pride read through the awards for reporting.
When he started into the next-to-last journalism category, breaking news photography, and uttered the words "... to the St. Louis..," the room erupted in joy. Photographers hugged each other to the cheers of their colleagues.
The photo staff consists of chief photographer J.B. Forbes, photographers Carson, Cohen, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Christian Gooden, Chris Lee, Huy Mach and Laurie Skrivan; and director of photography Lynden Steele; photo editor Hilary Levin; and Gary Hairlson, director of video.
Said Steele, "I am very proud of how they pulled together day after day, night after night. At times it was very dangerous, and although no one had to go out, everybody always volunteered and always were ready to go at a moment's notice."
Carson, 43 and a staff photographer here for 15 years, called the award "humbling and sad. We won a Pulitzer for something that began with the loss of somebody's life. It has caused so much trauma in our community, but I'm proud of the way we responded as a staff to document those events and show people what was going on in their back yard."
Cohen, 49 and a staff member for 16 years, noted that journalists from around the world reported from Ferguson. "But nobody could tell the story better than local journalists, and I'm proud of the photo team and everybody in the newsroom who jumped in feet first," he said.
Messenger, the editorial page editor, praised Horrigan, the deputy editor, for keeping the editorial page true to the "Platform," a statement of purpose written by Post-Dispatch founder Joseph Pulitzer in 1907 that the editorial page publishes daily. "Kevin continues to be the soul of the editorial page, and to have him connected to the soul of of the Pulitzer legacy is incredible."
Horrigan, 66, has been a reporter, columnist and editorial writer at the Post-Dispatch for 27 years. Messenger, 48, has been at the newspaper for seven years, three as editorial editor.