Alabama Media Group shares Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on police dogs; Roy S. Johnson finalist for commentary

The Alabama Media Group and three other media outlets were awarded the Pulitzer Prize Friday for national reporting, and columnist Roy S. Johnson was named a finalist for commentary.

The national reporting honor was shared with the staffs of The Marshall Project, The Indianapolis Star and the Invisible Institute, for a yearlong investigation of K-9 units and the damage that police dogs inflict on Americans.

In April, the series won a national White House Correspondents’ Association award for investigative journalism.

The series “Mauled: When Police Dogs are Weapons,” also won the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Katherine Graham Award for Courage and Accountability, named for the late publisher of the Washington Post.

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier today.

“We’re honored to be recognized and grateful for those who shared their stories in our work this year,” said Kelly Ann Scott, vice president of content for Alabama Media Group.

The yearlong investigation began with reporter and editor Challen Stephens’ investigation of violent encounters involving a police dog and its handler in a small Alabama town. reporter Ashley Remkus and photographer Joe Songer also worked on the project that included creation of a first-of-its kind database of incidents where police dogs caused serious injuries attacking suspects.

Realizing the issue was not limited to Alabama, reached out to the The Marshall Project to broaden the investigation. The two organizations also worked with The Indianapolis Star and Invisible Institute, who were looking at K-9 issues in Indiana.

“This award recognizes all of the effort that went into this project, a story that started with a series of violent dog bites in the small city of Talladega and ballooned into a massive examination of a little-noticed use of force by police,” Stephens said. “Dogs can seem so friendly, but the bites leave people traumatized, often with permanent scars and injuries for minor or no crimes.

“I’d especially thank my early reporting partner Abbie Van Sickle at the Marshall Project, as the two of us spent countless late hours documenting bites, spending months talking through lawsuits and regulations, knowing we were onto something important.”

The project also was a finalist for the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting awarded by the Shorestein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

In the national reporting category, the police dog project won in a category with finalists including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The Times was honored for reporting on the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus threat, while the Journal was honored for stories on how nursing home residents fared during the pandemic.

Roy S. Johnson was a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary.

In Commentary, Johnson was named a finalist for “evocative columns on race and remembrance written with style, urgency and moral clarity.”

Johnson, who came to the Alabama Media Group in 2014, has previously been editor-in-chief at Men’s Fitness, History Channel and Savoy magazines, editor at large at Fortune and assistant managing editor at Sports Illustrated. He also co-executive produced a sports documentary for ESPN’s award-winning “30-for-30” series.

“There’s nothing more humbling for a journalist than to be mentioned in the same breath as ‘Pulitzer,’” Johnson said. “I am grateful beyond measure to be a finalist for the 2021 awards, and to be part of such an amazing team of colleagues at AMG.”