May 19, 2022

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Miami Herald wins Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for 2022

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The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for its coverage of the Surfside condo collapse in June of 2021.

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When Miami awoke to the stunning, heartbreaking news of the sudden collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside overnight in June, readers found the Miami Herald had already been reporting for hours.

And for that ample, wide-ranging reporting of the June 24 catastrophe that killed 98 people, the Miami Herald has won its 23rd Pulitzer Prize, the committee announced May 9. The Miami Herald was awarded the top prize in the Breaking News category, which judges how a news organization covers a major news event.

“As a newsroom, we poured our hearts into the breaking news and the ongoing daily coverage, and subsequent investigative coverage, of the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse story,” said Miami Herald Executive Editor Monica Richardson. “It was our story to tell because the people and the families in Surfside who were impacted by this unthinkable tragedy are a part of our community.”

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Yuby Cartes holds a photo of loved ones as she waits for updates at a reunification center at 9301 Collins Ave in Surfside, Florida, on Thursday, June 24, 2021. A part of the Champlain Towers South condo at 8777 Collins Ave. collapsed before 2 a.m. Thursday. She had family members staying on the second floor of the Champlain Towers. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

This particular Pulitzer honor is awarded to the newsroom as a whole, as opposed to a single writer, as 37 journalists were involved in the early reporting. The Herald’s 10-page entry includes editors who noted the first police calls over the scanner at just after 2 a.m. that Thursday to a team of reporters dedicated to writing the first memorials in a searchable database that tracked those who were missing.

In between, photographers captured the enormity of the destruction at Champlain Towers South, one of the deadliest building failures in modern history. Writers painted scenes of narrow escapes from firsthand accounts of those who were able to get out of the portion of the building left standing. And editors and social media specialists shared the information in all media, from the Herald homepage to Instagram. Readers were able to follow news from witnesses to official sources in nearly real time.

“This is home for us. A lot of us live a mile away from where the tower stood and all of us live within about 20 miles of it,” said Joey Flechas, the first reporter to arrive at the site of the collapse and who anchored the first sprawling narrative of the catastrophe. “What was overwhelming was the grace of the people who survived and family of those who didn’t, who opened up to us, told us how they felt and trusted us with their stories.”

Herald journalists reported amid the unique challenges of the pandemic, working from their homes and in the field, without a central newsroom. A flood of information — and misinformation — required Herald journalists to vet sources and question accounts. Yet by 3:21 a.m., the Herald had posted its first, confirmed story of the collapse, noting 99 feared missing. After a 15-year-old boy was pulled from the rubble alive, the number of those killed — 98 — proved that first count accurate.

“We were relentless in covering the news, delivering context, insights and information available nowhere else and we did it all knowing we were doing it for a community that depended on us for answers,” Richardson wrote. “We were the news source that other news sources around the world followed.”

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Fire rescue personnel conduct search and rescue with dogs in the rubble at Champlain Towers South condo, a part of which collapsed in the early morning Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. David Santiago [email protected]

At 6:40 a.m., when most people were first discovering the news, the Herald had updated its original story more than 40 times. It was already rich with details from reporters at the scene — including a concerned husband standing at the police tape breaking into tears when his wife inside the spared part of the tower called to let him know she was alive.

By 8:14 a.m., the Herald had posted a story with hotline numbers for families of the missing who lived or worked at the Champlain Towers South to notify officials of who might be safe. It helped build a framework to understand the number of people unaccounted for.

By 8:30 a.m., the Herald had submitted public record requests for the building’s inspection records. Within 24 hours of the first frantic calls for help, the Herald had posted a story about a 2018 inspection report that showed major damage to the pool deck — which months of reporting would later identify as a key reason for the collapse.

“Our job becomes to get as many answers as we can, as quickly as we can. It matters so much in those early hours. People who lived through that tragedy deserve it,” said Sarah Blaskey, a Herald investigative reporter who contacted experts that morning who have remained part of the Herald’s deep reporting in the months since. “The Miami Herald isn’t going anywhere. We’re just as dedicated to that story today as we were a year ago.”

A searchable database of the missing was started and published within the first 24 hours on the Herald website and a separate team of reporters sought to memorialize every single person missing. The memorials became obituaries as officials confirmed those killed. And family members were able to tell the world rich stories of their loved ones.

Before the weekend was over, the Herald had rented a hotel in a nearby apartment building, just blocks from the tower, which writers, photographers and editors would use as a makeshift newsroom. Over the next few weeks, rotating teams of journalists covered press conferences, efforts by rescue workers, and stories of neighbors helping neighbors with food and provisions as they awaited word from loved ones.

“Receiving this prestigious award shows the power and impact of local journalism,” Richardson said. “This Pulitzer comes with a mixture of sadness and gratification. It also comes as the Miami Herald continues to investigate the collapse and hold officials accountable as we find the answers to how this happened and work to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

In the weeks and months after the Champlain Towers South collapse, the Herald has continued with its commitment to understanding exactly what happened in the middle of the night on June 24, 2021. The Herald created a memorial page dedicated to the victims of the collapse; built a Webby Award-winning interactive story that illustrates the moments leading to the collapse in real time; and continues to follow the stories about the myriad lawsuits, condo association issues and building code failures that are still unfolding in the aftermath of one of the deadliest building collapses in American history.

“Monica Richardson’s team at the Miami Herald delivered on the highest mission of local journalism: Service to our community,” said Kristin Roberts, the head of news at McClatchy, the parent company of the Miami Herald. “Every element of this coverage — from the pieces that answered the most urgent questions to the poignant profiles to quick-turn investigation — started with a single foundational question: What does our community need in this moment? We are proud of this work, and thankful that the Pulitzer Prize jurors recognized its quality and impact.”

Read the stories the Pulitzer Prize committee considered before awarding the Miami Herald its 23rd Pulitzer Prize, this one in Breaking News:

This story was originally published May 9, 2022 3:22 PM.

Profile Image of Carlos Frías

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of the memoir “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”