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The USA TODAY Network’s Louisville Courier Journal won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting on Monday for its coverage of last-minute pardons issued by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin before he left office. 

The Pulitzer board honored the staff of the Courier Journal for “showing how the process was marked by opacity, racial disparities and violations of legal norms.”

The Courier Journal celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. Gannett, which owns the USA TODAY Network, has won at least 56 Pulitzer Prizes.

“I am so proud of the team at the Courier Journal,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, Gannett’s president of news. “This is precisely the kind of dogged watchdog work that brings accountability to government. This is what we do.”

The Courier Journal first reported on Dec. 11 that Bevin, a Republican, had issued more than 600 pardons and commutations after narrowly losing the November election to Democrat Andy Beshear, the current governor.

In that first article, The Courier Journal found that the family of a man pardoned by  Bevin for a homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 Knox County home invasion raised $21,500 at a 2018 political fundraiser to retire debt from Bevin’s 2015 gubernatorial campaign.

Like others on Monday, Courier Journal Editor Rick Green found out about the award while listening to Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy reveal the awards on a live stream. But Green’s internet connection dropped off right as the Breaking News Reporting award was announced. He didn’t find out that the publication had won until a call shortly after the announcement with Amalie Nash, vice president of local news for Gannett.

“I’m literally drinking cheap champagne out of a plastic Kentucky Derby glass,” Green said in an interview after the announcement.

Green said the news triggered an “incredible collision of emotions” given the elation of the news combined with the challenging times for the nation and for journalism.

“I hope that this sends a signal to the community of how determined we are to uphold the legacy of great journalism and to fulfill the expectations of readers,” he said. 

Also Monday, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service went to the Anchorage Daily News with contributions from ProPublica for exposing the lack of police protection for some Alaskan villages.

The Pulitzer board also awarded a special citation posthumously to Ida B. Wells “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

Pulitzers also went to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, New Yorker, and the Baltimore Sun, among others.

The journalism award winners were:

  • Public Service: Anchorage Daily News with contributions from ProPublica
  • Breaking News Reporting: Staff of The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.
  • Investigative Reporting: Brian M. Rosenthal of The New York Times
  • Explanatory Reporting: Staff of The Washington Post
  • Local Reporting: Staff of The Baltimore Sun
  • National Reporting: Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, Mike Baker and Lewis Kamb of The Seattle Times; and T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi of ProPublica
  • International Reporting: Staff of The New York Times
  • Feature Writing: Ben Taub of The New Yorker
  • Commentary: Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times
  • Criticism: Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times
  • Editorial Writing: Jeffery Gerritt of the Palestine (Tx.) Herald Press
  • Editorial Cartooning: Barry Blitt, contributor, The New Yorker
  • Breaking News Photography: Photography Staff of Reuters
  • Feature Photography: Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin of Associated Press
  • Audio Reporting: Staff of This American Life with Molly O’Toole of the Los Angeles Times and Emily Green, freelancer, Vice News

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

Contributing: Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Journal

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