Anchorage Daily News’ ‘Lawless’ series wins Pulitzer Prize for public service

The Yukon River. (Photo by K. Hill/National Park Service)

Just three years after the paper emerged from bankruptcy, the Anchorage Daily News has taken home journalism’s highest honor for its year-long series examining the ongoing failures in the public safety system serving rural Alaska.

Today’s announcement of the public service prize for the paper’s “Lawless” series, which was produced in partnership with non-profit ProPublica and led by long-time Anchorage reporter Kyle Hopkins, marks the third time the Anchorage Daily News has won a Pulitzer Prize.

The reporting took an exhaustive look at rural Alaska’s public safety system through data-driven journalism, public records and interviews, showing how the system had been stretched to a desperate breaking point while resources were consolidated in urban areas of the state.

One of the project’s first reports revealed that one in three of communities in Alaska had no law enforcement of any kind, a story that predated U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s visit to Alaska that resulted in the declaration of a federal emergency and additional resources for those communities.

The reporting didn’t paint a pretty picture of Alaska’s political system, which has largely ignored the dire warnings about the troubled Village Public Safety Officer program—including extremely long wait times for public enforcement officers—while funneling additional resources into suburban, wealthier and mostly white neighborhoods.

“Since statehood, Alaska has robbed Native villages of the most basic of human rights: access to first responders. Our work with (the Anchorage Daily News) laid bare this failing, two-tiered criminal justice system,” tweeted ProPublica Deputy Managing Editor Charles Ornstein.

The series concluded with several recommendations to improve public safety in rural Alaska, which included calling on Mat-Su to finally pay for its own police. 

Today’s award marks a tremendous turnaround for Alaska’s largest newspaper, which declared bankruptcy under the ownership of Alice Rogoff in 2017 and faced grave uncertainty under a mountain of debt before it was purchased by the Binkley family out of Fairbanks.

The ADN “Lawless” series surpassed both The New York Times’s reporting on the political war on science and The Washington Post’s data-driven investigation into America’s opioid crisis.

ADN’s partnership with ProPublica was extended for a second year.

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