How the Pulitzer Board Chose Kendrick Lamar

  • First Hip-Hop Artist Picked Over Classical, Jazz Acts
  • . . . ‘As a Black Woman,’ Figuring Out Dylann Roof”
  • Lisa Wilson on Ladder to Lead Sports Editors Group
  • Getty, Ava DuVernay Team to Aid Visual Journalists
  • Nominate a J-Educator Who Promotes Diversity
Kendrick Lamar performs onstage with SZA during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 13, 2018, in Indio, Calif.
Photo: Larry Busacca (Getty Images for Coachella)

First Hip-Hop Artist Picked Over Classical, Jazz Acts

The most surprising Pulitzer Prize Monday came at the very end: The last prize to be announced. It was in the music category, and it went to Kendrick Lamar, the first hip-hop artist to win in the category.


There were no gasps and no questions about Lamar’s award in the World Room at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, although DJ Monday Blue, a.k.a. Tracey Blue, played Lamar’s “DNA” when the ceremony ended. One couldn’t be sure that those in the room knew who Lamar was. But out in the world, the selection was hailed.

Kendrick Lamar deserves his Pulitzer. Rap is the most significant music of our time,” heralded a headline in the Washington Post.


Kendrick Lamar Wins Pulitzer in ‘Big Moment for Hip-Hop’” the New York Times agreed.

On Tuesday on “Democracy Now!” hip-hop educator Bryan Mooney, whose North Bergen, N.J., high school class Lamar visited in 2015, called Lamar a “masterful storyteller” and praised his command of language. The award showed that “rap music and hip-hop culture can be used to teach and learn.” While hip-hop doesn’t put much stock in establishment institutions, he said, “It’s nice to get the recognition.”

Dana Canedy, Pulitzer Prize administrator, with Sree Sreenivasan, a social media expert who recorded the Pulitzer announcement and interviewed attendees on Facebook Live.
Photo: David Beard

After stepping down from her announcement platform, Dana Canedy, the former New York Times journalist who in July was elected the first African American Pulitzer Prize administrator, told Journal-isms that Lamar was the unanimous choice of the 17-member Pulitzer board last week.


The Pulitzer music jury “was starting to talk about the nominated work that was influenced by hip-hop,” Canedy said. Jury members then decided that if they could consider work influenced by hip-hop, “then they could consider hip-hop.” They became very excited and took their thoughts to the Pulitzer Board.

“The board was so excited when it came to them. The vote was unanimous and we’re very proud of it,” Canedy said. She called Lamar’s work “vernacular avant-garde, and a collage of hybrid sounds and pulsing rhythms layered under pulsing kinetic texts.”


The Pulitzer board praised Lamar’s “Damn” album as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

It beat out finalists “Quartet,” by Michael Gilbertson and “Sound from the Bench,” by Ted Hearne.


“I got, I got, I got, I got—Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA,” it begins. “Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA.
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA
I was born like this, since one like this, immaculate conception
I transform like this, perform like this, was Yeshua new weapon
I don’t contemplate, I meditate, then off your fucking head . . .”

It includes four-letter words and yes, the n-word.

In an annotation with 14 contributors posted on, the analysts say, “On ‘DNA.,’ Kendrick adopts multiple viewpoints, celebrating, critiquing, and exploring his black heritage and culture. In the music video, Kendrick and Kansas City actor, Don Cheadle appear to trade bars/argue using the lyrics to this song.’. . .”


Former President Barack Obama counts himself as one of Lamar’s fans.

Daniel Kreps wrote in January 2016 for Rolling Stone, “President Barack Obama recently proclaimed that his favorite song of 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s ‘How Much a Dollar Cost,’ and today it was revealed that the Commander-in-Chief and the To Pimp a Butterfly rapper sat down in the Oval Office to discuss a variety of topics. Photos from Lamar’s meeting with the president were shared in a new video promoting the Pay It Forward program, which encourages the mentoring of inner city youth, with the rapper opening about his conversation with Obama. . . .”


In the World Room Monday, social media expert Sree Sreenivasan was creating a video for Facebook Live, interviewing attendees. Now a social media consultant for Columbia, Sreenivasan taught at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, co-founded the South Asian Journalists Association and was the first chief digital officer at Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the city of New York. Also interviewing was David Beard, a contributing editor at the Poynter Institute who writes the “Morning Mediawire.”


To both men, this writer compared Lamar’s honor with what it would have been like had the Pulitzer Board awarded James Brown in 1970. (“It’s that monumental,” Canedy agreed when Sreenivasan asked whether she agreed with the analogy.) The seeming lack of African Americans in the investigative reporting categories also came to mind, along with efforts by the Ida B. Wells Society to address that.

Audra D.S. Burch, now at the New York Times, a black journalist, was a finalist in the investigative reporting category along with Miami Herald colleague Carol Marbin Miller. They worked on “Fight Club,” a project exploring failures in Florida’s child welfare system.


Others were part of teams that won Pulitzers, such as photographer Cara Owsley of the Cincinnati Enquirer and data reporter Andrew Ba Tran of the Washington Post.

And Dean Baquet, the first African American top editor at the New York Times, took pride in the Pulitzer Prize for public service, shared with the New Yorker, for “breaking the Harvey Weinstein scandal with reporting that galvanized the #MeToo movement and set off a worldwide reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace,” as the Associated Press reported.


“By revealing secret settlements, persuading victims to speak and bringing powerful men to account, we spurred a worldwide reckoning about sexual abuse that only seems to be growing,” Baquet said in remarks to the newsroom.

When Canedy left the New York Times in October 2016, Janet Elder, a deputy executive editor, wrote staffers that Canedy “is working with Denzel Washington and his producing partner, Todd Black of Escape Artists Productions, on the movie adaptation of her bestselling memoir, ‘A Journal for Jordan. ” In October 2006, Canedy’s fiancé, Army First Sergeant Charles King, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. In 2008, she completed “A Journal for Jordan,” her fiancé’s 200-page journal for his seven-month-old son in case he did not make it home from the war in Iraq.


Along with Canedy’s son Jordan, among the invited guests Monday was Virgil Williams, the screenwriter, who said the movie is being produced by Sony Pictures.

List of winners

The photography staff of Reuters won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for “shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.” Here, the refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach Teknaf, Bangladesh in November.
Photo: Reuters

. . . ‘As a Black Woman,’ Figuring Out Dylann Roof

Last year, I spent three intense months in South Carolina tracing the rise of white supremacist organizations in America and the radicalization of Dylann Roof, the first American to be sentenced to death for a hate crime,” freelance writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah wrote on her website in August.


“After six months of reporting, this piece is now out in GQ’s September Issue. For five years, I was committed to writing only about Black America, but then this act of terrorism happened.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
Screenshot: YouTube

“Thanks to Daniel Riley, my editor, and GQ for believing in my pitch back in October (and not laughing me out of the room when I swore that Trump would win). Thanks to Jim Nelson and Chris Cox for finding the space to run all 11k words and for letting this piece be one of the longest pieces of reporting that GQ has published in a decade.

“I’m grateful to their magazine for sending me down there to figure this out as a black woman, and for staying the very long editorial course until we had something solid. . . .”


Ghansah had previously told Gwen Ifill on the “PBS NewsHour,” “I like writing about people who look like me and the people I know who don’t have good pieces written about them, because we deserve it. . . .”

On Monday, Ghansah was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing “For an unforgettable portrait of murderer Dylann Roof, using a unique and powerful mix of reportage, first-person reflection and analysis of the historical and cultural forces behind his killing of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.”


It was just one of the prizes of particular interest to journalists of color.

The staffs of the Arizona Republic and USA Today Network won for explanatory reporting for “vivid and timely reporting that masterfully combined text, video, podcasts and virtual reality to examine, from multiple perspectives, the difficulties and unintended consequences of fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to construct a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.”


Nicole Carroll, editor and vice president/news of the Republic, explained to readers in September, “To bring you this report, we flew the entire border — drove it, too. More than 30 reporters and photographers from the USA TODAY NETWORK interviewed migrants, farmers, families, tribal members — even a human smuggler. We joined Border Patrol agents on the ground, in a tunnel, at sea. We patrolled with vigilantes, walked the line with ranchers. We scoured government maps, fought for property records. . . .”

The photography staff of Reuters won for feature photography, for “shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.”


Two Reuters journalists have been held for more than 100 days on spurious accusations of violating the country’s official secrets law. “Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in Yangon on December 13, 2017, by local security forces,” the International Press Institute noted on March 28. “The pair had been investigating the death of 10 Muslims in a village in Rakhine State, western Myanmar. Rakhine State is home to an ongoing conflict that has forced more than 700,000 ethnic Muslim Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. . . .”

“Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” by James Forman Jr., won the prize for general nonfiction. Forman is a professor at Yale Law School and a co-founder of an alternative charter school for dropouts in Washington. The judges described the book as an “examination of the historical roots of contemporary criminal justice in the U.S., based on vast experience and deep knowledge of the legal system, and its often-devastating consequences for citizens and communities of color.”


Forman is also the son of the civil rights leader of the same name. “Forman opens with a story from 1995, when, as a public defender in Washington, he unsuccessfully tried to keep a 15-year-old out of a juvenile detention center with a grim reputation,” Jennifer Senior wrote in April 2017 in a review for the New York Times. “Looking around the courtroom, he realized that everyone associated with the case was African-American: the judge, the prosecutor, the bailiff. The arresting officer was black, as was the city’s police chief, its mayor and the majority of the city council that had written the stringent gun and drug laws his client had violated.

“ ‘What was going on?’ Forman asks. ‘How did a majority-black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its own?’ . . .”

A vehicle plows into a group of protesters at the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., in August.
Photo: Ryan J. Kelly (Daily Progress, Charlottesville)

Other prizes, while not awarded to journalists of color, touched on race relations. Ryan Kelly of the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., won in the breaking news photography category for “a chilling image that reflected the photographer’s reflexes and concentration in capturing the moment of impact of a car attack during a racially charged protest in Charlottesville . . .” It was taken on Kelly’s last day at the paper.


The staff of the Washington Post Staff won for investigative reporting, for “purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls and subsequent efforts to undermine the journalism that exposed it.”

In the aftermath of Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special December election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, African American voters — especially African American women — were credited with saving the day for Jones.


However, Sheila Tyson, a member of the Birmingham City Council who is Alabama convener of the nonpartisan National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, told Journal-isms, “no one covered us and what we were doing.”

Lisa Wilson on Ladder to Lead Sports Editors Group

Lisa Wilson
Photo: Journal-isms

Lisa Wilson of ESPN’s The Undefeated and Justin Pelletier of the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, have been elected second and third vice-president in the election that concluded on Friday night,” the Associated Press Sports Editors announced on Saturday.

“Wilson, as second vice-president, will serve a three-year term, ascending to the presidency in 2020-21. Pelletier, as third vice-president, will serve a two-year term, after which he’ll have the opportunity to run for second vice-president. . . .”


Wilson joined the Undefeated in March 2017, having been executive sports editor at the Buffalo News. She had been executive sports editor at the News since 2011, a rare post for an African American woman in daily journalism.

Ava DuVernay

Getty, Ava DuVernay Team to Aid Visual Journalists

Getty Images, a world leader in visual communications, in partnership with ARRAY Alliance, a creative collective founded by director Ava DuVernay to amplify the work of women and people of color filmmakers, today announced the launch of the first Getty Images ARRAY Grant, open to both filmmakers and photographers from around the world who are using their art forms to create diverse and inclusive visual stories,” Getty announced on Monday.


“Four grants of $5,000 each, totaling $20,000, will be awarded to two commercial creative photographers and two editorial filmmakers who capture the visual narrative of underrepresented ethnic communities such as African American, Caribbean, South Asian, Arab, Indigenous or Latinx, and use their medium to progress visual representation.

“The winners will be selected based on their project submissions, focusing on the quality of theircinematography, photographic skills and how their work is used to drive authenticity and inclusion. . . .”


Nominate a J-Educator Who Promotes Diversity

Beginning in 1990, the Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers, annually granted a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — “in recognition of an educator’s outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism.”


AOJ merged in 2016 into the American Society of News Editors, which is continuing the Bingham award tradition.Since 2000, the recipient has been awarded an honorarium of $1,000 to be used to “further work in progress or begin a new project.”

Gerald Jordan

Past winners include James Hawkins, Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa, Howard University (1992); Ben Holman, University of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt University, Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, University of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith, San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden, Penn State University (2001); Cheryl Smith, Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003).

Also, Leara D. Rhodes, University of Georgia (2004); Denny McAuliffe, University of Montana (2005); Pearl Stewart, Black College Wire (2006); Valerie White, Florida A&M University (2007); Phillip Dixon, Howard University (2008); Bruce DePyssler, North Carolina Central University (2009); Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University (2010); Yvonne Latty, New York University (2011); Michelle Johnson, Boston University (2012); Vanessa Shelton, University of Iowa (2013); William Drummond, University of California at Berkeley (2014); Julian Rodriguez of the University of Texas at Arlington (2015) (video); David G. Armstrong, Georgia State University (2016) (video); and Gerald Jordan, University of Arkansas (2017).


Nominations may be emailed to Richard Prince, ASNE Opinion Journalism Committee, richardprince (at) The deadline is May 18. Please use that address only for ASNE matters.


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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.


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