USA TODAY Network South journalists win national journalism award for 'Confederate Reckoning'
USA TODAY Network newsrooms across the South region won a prestigious journalism award Thursday honoring an ongoing project that explores the long shadow of racism in the American South.
“The Confederate Reckoning,” a multimedia series powered by dozens of journalists working across five states, received the grand prize from the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards. The annual awards recognize outstanding domestic and international reporting on issues of human rights and social justice.
Renowned TV journalist Katie Couric praised the work during the online ceremony as a “detailed, unusual and difficult examination.”
The project harnessed the reach of the USA TODAY Network South, which includes journalists working in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Together, they traced the complicated history of the Confederacy from historic battlefields of the 1860s to contemporary classrooms and halls of government.
Starting in the summer of 2020, the network published more than 35 pieces of content tied to the project. More than 29 journalists — including teams at The Tennessean in Nashville, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, The Knoxville News Sentinel, The Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, the The Daily Advertiser in Louisiana and The Clarion Ledger in Mississippi — contributed.
Their work included frank assessments of Confederate monuments that became flashpoints in the national reckoning over racism. As statues toppled and tensions flared, the network wrote about the monuments’ origins as emblems of white supremacist ideology at the height of the Jim Crow era.
Six stories focused inward, examining the network’s painful history of propagating pro-Confederate racism through local newspapers. Another wave of stories focused on education, and how schools teach — or don’t teach — students about racism in the United States.
The work paralleled a national movement to confront racism in all its forms.
“The Confederate Reckoning” began in the weeks after George Floyd died in Minneapolis, sparking a wave of rage and protests against systemic racism. The project illustrated the ways those forces have shaped the South for generations.
“Given the year that was 2020, and the extraordinary journalism that was produced across the country, what a profound honor it is to be recognized with this award, which recognizes reporting highlighting human rights, social justice and the power of individual action,” said Michael A. Anastasi, editor of the USA TODAY Network South and vice president and editor of The Tennessean. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team and the dozens of journalists across five states who contributed to the project.”
Mark Russell, the project editor and executive editor of The Commercial Appeal, said the work “put on full display the power of the South region, both our ability to tell compelling stories and present them in powerful ways.”
“The reporting was a deep dive into the painful, and at times poignant, history of the South, its institutions and people,” Russell said. “We used the storytelling to show how some contemporary issues in education, housing, wealth disparity and poverty have their roots in the often state-sponsored practices that defined Southern states as well as the rest of the nation.”
“The Confederate Reckoning” is an ongoing project. Additional installments touching on racist violence, housing discrimination and education will publish later this year.
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Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tamburintweets.