Largest U.S. Journalism Award Goes to Coverage of Black Liberation, Uvalde Aftermath
Amidst news industry turmoil, the Heising-Simons Foundation’s American Mosaic Journalism Prize, which awards $100,000 grants to freelancers, is significant.
This year’s American Mosaic Journalism Prize, which carries an unrestricted cash grant of $100,000, went to freelance writer Dara T. Mathis for her coverage of Black liberation movements and to photojournalist Tamir Kalifa for his coverage of Uvalde, Texas in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
The Heising-Simons Foundation created the American Mosaic Journalism Prize in 2018 to award in-depth or narrative reporting on underrepresented or misrepresented communities. The cash prize is the largest of its kind for any journalism prize in the United States. The announcement today of the 2024 winners comes on the heels of a
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The country’s largest journalism award, the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, went to two freelance journalists for their work last year covering Black liberation movements and the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex.
Freelance writer Dara T. Mathis and freelance photojournalist Tamir Kalifa will each receive an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000 from the Heising-Simons Foundation, which created the prize in 2018 to award in-depth freelance reporting on underrepresented communities.
Previous winners, who also received unrestricted cash prizes of $100,000 each, have reported on issues ranging from census outreach in Indigenous reservations and the lives of Syrian refugee families in Montana to the scourge of police violence and corruption.
This year’s award comes on the heels of a brutal month for the news industry, replete with mass layoffs at storied publications like the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated.
That precarity wasn’t lost on Mathis, one of this year’s winners, who herself was laid off in 2019 by Romper, a digital parenting publication owned by Bustle.
“We are facing what feels like an unprecedented instability in our industry,” said Mathis, who published an essay in the Atlantic last year about her upbringing in a Black nationalist commune whose building was sold in 2019 to be converted into luxury apartments.
“Getting this prize underscores to me just how much journalism deserves to be funded,” she said.
Mathis is currently working on a memoir and said the $100,000 prize will help her pay for basics like child care, allowing her to “leave my family to go report and still know that we’re not totally in the lurch.”
Kalifa was honored for a photo essay in the New York Times last year that captured the agony, outrage, and laments of families living in Uvalde, where a mass shooter in 2022 killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.
Earning the trust of those families was a “very slow, slow process,” he said, the kind that freelance journalists rarely have the time or money for because “we often don’t know when our next paycheck is coming in.”
Yet it’s those kinds of deeply reported pieces that can “break through the noise — that can move people” to understand the consequences of issues like gun violence, said Kalifa. “Work like this is worth pursuing and supporting.”
It’s important to celebrate long-form reporting — as opposed to bite-size content like TikToks, clickbait, or memes — said Brian Eule, director of journalism and communications at the Heising-Simons Foundation.
“Journalism is critical to a multicultural, multiracial, and healthy democracy,” he said. “This award says that kind of journalism and journalists are important — and it’s so important that the largest dollar amount of a journalism prize in the country is for that type of work.”
The struggle for funding goes far beyond individual journalists or media institutions.
Amid declining ad revenue, one-third of U.S. newspapers have folded since 2005, according to one study by Northwestern University. However, many at-risk news organizations could “be commercially viable — they just need some help to find the right business model for their market,” said Larry DeGaris, executive director of the university’s Medill Spiegel Research Center.
In recent years, philanthropy has become an increasingly important — albeit insufficient — source of support to nonprofit newsrooms, which have more than doubled in number since 2017. About half of foundations say their journalism grant making has increased in the past five years, with roughly a third funding journalism for the first time, according to a survey of 129 funders. Last year, a group of 22 grant makers led by the MacArthur and Knight foundations pledged more than half a billion dollars to support local journalism over the next five years.
“The role of philanthropy could be to seed innovation” in a way that “fundamentally rethinks journalism” to be more financially sustainable, says Jeff Jarvis, a media commentator and former director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
“An award is wonderful, but it’s just a sprinkle of salt in the ocean,” he said.