A team of Boston Globe reporters won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories that revealed the deadly consequences caused by states across the country failing to track reckless drivers and take them off the road.
The Globe’s investigation, titled “Blind Spot” and published over two days in August 2020, also documented lax oversight by federal trucking regulators that endangered lives.
The 2021 award for investigative reporting, announced Friday by Columbia University, was the 27th Pulitzer for the Globe. The Pulitzer board awarded prizes in 15 journalism categories overall, with more than half going to newsrooms for work focused on the global coronavirus pandemic or race and policing in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
The Globe series was reported and written by Evan Allen, Laura Crimaldi, Vernal Coleman, Matt Rocheleau, and Brendan McCarthy, who also shared editing duties with Steven Wilmsen.
Among the other winners: The New York Times, in public service, for coverage of the pandemic; the staff of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, in breaking news, for its reporting on the Floyd killing and its repercussions; and the staffs of The Marshall Project, AL.com, the IndyStar, and the Invisible Institute, in national reporting, for their investigation of K-9 units and the damage that police dogs inflict on Americans.
The board also issued a special citation to Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed George Floyd’s murder on her cellphone.
The Globe’s Alan Wirzbicki and Rachelle G. Cohen were finalists in the editorial writing category for work that “addressed a controversial local zoning fight, centering the legacy of restrictive housing laws in America’s ongoing conversation about equity, inclusion, and opportunity.” Over the past four years the Globe has earned eight finalist citations.
Also taking a finalist spot in the breaking news category were Helen Branswell, Andrew Joseph, and the late Sharon Begley of STAT. The board cited their “prescient, expert, and accessible coverage of the emergence of COVID-19, sounding the alarm on the potential spread and potency of the virus.”
“This win and these finalist nods are a testament to the Globe’s deep commitment to impactful journalism even in the most difficult of times,” said Linda Pizzuti Henry, chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners, which owns the Globe and STAT. “When you have talented journalists in a well-resourced organization, it nearly guarantees a better informed public and a stronger community.”
In the arts, the prize for fiction went to Louise Erdrich for “The Night Watchman,” and the prize for general nonfiction went to David Zucchino for “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy.” “The Hot Wing King,” by Katori Hall, won the drama prize.
The Pulitzer board cited the Globe team for uncovering a “systematic failure by state governments to share information about dangerous truck drivers that could have kept them off the road, prompting immediate reforms.”
The Globe reporters spent nearly a year digging through crash data and records and found that high-risk drivers across the country were escaping scrutiny — and remaining on the road — due to bureaucratic neglect. The consequences were deadly, with the Globe documenting 14 fatalities caused by drivers whose past violations should have prevented them from getting behind the wheel.
The genesis of the series was the devastating crash in June 2019 in which a truck driven by Volodymyr Zhukovskyy killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire. The Globe soon reported that Zhukovskyy’s license should have been suspended weeks prior to the accident, but the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had failed to open its mail and act on a warning notice from another state.
“Globe journalists covering that deadly crash on an isolated stretch of highway in New Hampshire quickly discovered an appalling number of lapses on the part of our government, and wouldn’t let go,” said Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory. “They pried out an enormous amount of vital data. They practiced tireless shoe-leather reporting. What they produced has created immediate reforms, resulted in deadly drivers being taken off the road, and has surely saved lives.”
That initial investigation prompted a deeper dive into state motor vehicle agencies nationwide, with the team finding that those agencies were buried under paperwork and unable to monitor troubled drivers. Reporters also delved into the trucking industry, unearthing repeated regulatory failures, deadly crashes, and unanswered calls for change.
After the deaths in New Hampshire, the Globe “quickly found that this kind of tragedy had been happening year after year for decades,” McCarthy, the team’s editor, said. “The problems were in plain sight but had never been addressed.”
Two dozen or so Globe staffers gathered in the newsroom as the Pulitzer winners were announced, the largest contingent by far since the paper switched to remote work in March 2020. Scores of others joined a Zoom call shortly after the news broke.
“I grew up reading the Globe, and to win this award at the newspaper I always admired so much is the biggest honor of my career,” said Allen, who has been a staff reporter since 2013.
“I never saw this day coming and it’s such a thrill,” said Crimaldi, who joined the Globe in 2012.
Coleman left the Globe in November to join ProPublica, while Rocheleau departed last month to become data editor for Hearst newspapers in Connecticut and Albany, N.Y.
The Globe had planned to publish “Blind Spot” in the spring of 2020 “and we were pretty close to the finish line,” McCarthy said, but work was put on hold for several months while the team, like most of the newsroom, pivoted to pandemic coverage. They returned to reporting and writing in summer.
Officials in several states suspended dozens of licenses in direct response to Globe inquiries — before the newspaper ever published a word. At least five motor vehicle agencies and court systems launched investigations into their failure to flag thousands of dangerous drivers.
In Massachusetts, the top transportation official acknowledged that the state had failed to focus on safety, and suggested that the findings could help spur national change.
Here is a full list of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize winners.
Public Service: The New York Times
Breaking News Reporting: Staff of the Star Tribune
Investigative Reporting: Matt Rocheleau, Vernal Coleman, Laura Crimaldi, Evan Allen, and Brendan McCarthy of The Boston Globe
Explanatory Reporting: Ed Yong of The Atlantic and Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell, and Jackie Botts of Reuters
Local Reporting: Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times
National Reporting: Staffs of The Marshall Project, AL.com, IndyStar, and the Invisible Institute
International Reporting: Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek of BuzzFeed News
Feature Writing: Nadja Drost, freelance contributor, The California Sunday Magazine, and Mitchell S. Jackson, freelance contributor, Runner’s World
Commentary: Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Criticism: Wesley Morris of The New York Times
Editorial Writing: Robert Greene of The Los Angeles Times
Editorial Cartooning: No award
Breaking News Photography: Photography Staff of Associated Press
Feature Photography: Emilio Morenatti of Associated Press
Audio Reporting: Lisa Hagen, Chris Haxel, Graham Smith, and Robert Little of National Public Radio
Fiction: ”The Night Watchman,” by Louise Erdrich
Drama: ”The Hot Wing King,” by Katori Hall
History: ”Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,” by Marcia Chatelain
Biography: ”The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne
Poetry: ”Postcolonial Love Poem,” by Natalie Diaz
General Nonfiction: ”Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” by David Zucchino
Music: ”Stride,” by Tania León, premiered on February 13, 2020, at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City