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This year’s Pulitzer Prize for public service goes to two newspapers. The coverage of the Snowden documents by the Guardian and the Washington Post won them the prize. The Pulitzer is the most coveted award for journalism. Giving it to the reporters of the Snowden documents has caused some controversy.
Reporting the Snowden Documents was a Public Service
The Pulitzer Prize this year for public service was awarded to both the Guardian and the Washington Post. The Pulitzer committee awarded the Guardian because they took the hard line. The Guardian encouraged public security and privacy debates over the connections between the public and the government. They said of the Washington Post that it reported insightfully and authoritatively. This supported public understanding of the connections that the Snowden documents have to national security issues.
The first point that the awarding proves is that reporting the Snowden documents was indeed a public service. It also highlights the efforts of both newspapers to publish the news despite the pressures they faced. Several individuals working for the papers were threatened when the Snowden documents came out. They could have been criminally charged and the papers sued for damages. In the bigger picture, the press as a whole could have been choked. Freedom of the press was at stake when the two newspapers decided to pursue reporting the Snowden documents.
The Guardian and the Washington Post were very brave to handle the Snowden documents in the first place. And they were very smart about the way they handled it. The support that the reports got from other news agencies helped. They could have left the pioneers high and dry. Instead, they reviewed some of the Snowden documents and corroborated the initial reports. Others also investigated the leads further.
The second point that the Pulitzer awarding to the Guardian and the Post brings out is the results of the reports. The US government has had to make serious changes as a result of the Snowden documents. Careful reporting led to admissions by President Obama, who is now held responsible for certain decisions. When statements proved false or lacking, the public was able to give educated responses. Congress was also held accountable for failing to properly oversee NSA surveillance practices. It is also expected that the Supreme Court will soon act on the issues that the Snowden documents have revealed.
The Snowden documents also sparked change in the private sector. Businesses had to recommit to consumers. They were not faithful to their promises of data privacy and security. The reports forced them to take these obligations more seriously, and not just think about their duties to law enforcement. Individuals also began to take action to protect themselves from invasive violations of their privacy.
The Controversy over the Snowden Documents
Some people say that giving the Pulitzer to the Guardian and the Post was a no brainer. Others disagree with the decision, saying that it was wrong for those who enable a lawbreaker to be praised. They call the Snowden documents a scandal, and reporting it disgraceful. But the newspapers did not enable Snowden, whatever he might be called. They did not simply publish whatever of Snowden documents came their way. The Guardian and the Washington Post both acted prudently in reporting elements of the Snowden documents. They were objective and fair and resisted pressures that could taint the reports.
Both the Guardian and the Washington Post stood tall and are icons of true journalism. They have also reminded other press organizations of their sacred duties to the Constitution and the law, to the public and to their sources. Their teams worked together to remain faithful to all their duties despite the dangers they faced.