Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter with the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica, won the Education Writers Association's top award Monday night for her examination of the persistence of racial segregation in U.S. schools.
Hannah-Jones won the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting at EWA's national conference in Chicago. Hechinger was a longtime education education reporter and editor for The New York Times.
The ProPublica report included a discussion of the disarray among federal court desegregation orders, leading some school districts to believe they have been released from court supervision when they haven't been. Another story looked at "the continuing tragedy of Ferguson," about racial segregation in the suburban St. Louis school district from which Michael Brown, whose shooting death by a police officer last summer caused a nationwide stir, had graduated. And finally, there was a more personal report looking at current conditions in Greenwood, Miss., where Hannah-Jones' father had lived before migrating north in 1947, like many other African-Americans.
"When I set out to tell this story, I questioned myself the whole time," Hannah-Jones said in accepting the award on April 20 at the EWA's annual conference. "I didn't think anybody cared about resegregation. It's been happening for a long time. I just thought it was one of those things where whether you are in a red state or a blue state, no one is talking about it anymore. We've kind of moved on."
"But I just felt that I had to tell the story," added Hannah-Jones, who is about to start a job covering civil rights for The New York Times Magazine. "We shouldn't only write about things we think we can change. We should write about issues that feel so intractable that you think they might never change."
Earlier, when her story was recognized for winning a category award, Hannah-Jones said, "I write about school segregation because I must. Because we all must."
The ProPublica report was among the category winners announced last month by EWA, taking the prize for beat reporting among medium-size general news outlets. The Hechinger Award is the grand prize chosen from among all category winners.
The education writers' group recognized the other category winners with a short video from a story subject, editor, mentor, or family member. The winners then were allowed to make remarks about their stories.
It made for a long evening following a dinner banquet, but one full of many poignant moments.
This from the Education Writers Association:
General News Outlet (Medium Staff)
- Segregation Now: The Resegregation of America’s Schools
- Lack of Order: The Erosion of a Once-Great Force for Integration
- School Segregation, the Continuing Tragedy of Ferguson
- Ghosts of Greenwood
“Fascinating look at the segregation, integration and then re-segregation of Tuscaloosa schools told through the eyes of three generations of a single family. Their personal insights and experiences worked very effectively in telling the story of the impact that racial discrimination and politics have on education and the students schools are supposed to serve.”
“Powerful, extraordinarily well reported pieces about segregation. The first one in particular combines the personal narratives of one family with the wider and historical social trends that affected their lives. The amount of leg work and legal research for these pieces pay off very well. The sweep and ambition of the pieces are rare. Congrats.”