Jessica Contrera, The Washington Post
In three unforgettable stories for The Washington Post, marked by deep empathy and dogged investigative skills, Jessica Contrera unmasks the tragedies endured by victims of child sex trafficking across the United States—from Ohio to Nevada to the conspiracy fringes of the web. Not only did Contrera earn the trust and honor the testimonies of three teenage girls traumatized by sexual abuse, but she also sifted through hundreds of pages of legal documents and even uncovered never-before-seen footage of a victim’s interrogation by police officers. Her reporting illustrates how systems of law meant to protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable children can harm them instead.

Leah Sottile, High Country News
“James Fuller Plymell III was a son of the Willamette Valley, the wide green land between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, home to Oregon’s prized hazelnuts and luscious pinot noir grapes,” Leah Sottile writes in her High Country News feature, “Did James Plymell Need to Die?” He was also a man who lost his life at the hands of police. From this single fact, Sottile reached far beyond the local media’s limited coverage and patiently worked to piece together a much more complex—and impressively structured—narrative of Plymell’s death. She found sources to speak with from Plymell’s own cell phone, visited Albany to meet his family and friends, and fearlessly pushed for an audio interview of the first officer on scene to be released. Sottile’s investigation humanizes Plymell, who struggled with mental illness and addiction for decades, and reveals the deadly consequences of criminalizing homelessness.

Andrew Quilty, Harper’s Magazine
Andrew Quilty has lived in Kabul for years. In “When the Raids Came,” his letter from Sher Toghi for Harper’s Magazine, he wields his extensive journalistic experience in Afghanistan to document how 20 years of war led to the frenzied withdrawal of U.S. forces in August 2021. Quilty follows Abdul Jalil Anees, an Afghan farmer from the central province of Wardak, whose family gradually shifts support to the Taliban—a transformation that parallels the war-ridden country’s larger experience. In 2019, a CIA-backed night raid killed four members of his family. The attack marked the beginning of a gradual shift in Abdul’s community, culminating in one of his surviving sons’ decision to join the Taliban. “I wanted [my children] to prioritize their studies,” he told Quilty. “But after the night raid, to be honest, we didn’t have any reason to stop him.” Quilty’s remarkable report is the result of tenacity and patience.

Margie Mason and Robin McDowell, The Associated Press
Margie Mason and Robin McDowell, veteran investigative reporters for The Associated Press, harness decades of journalistic experience in Southeast Asia to craft a rich, damning account of the palm-oil industry. In their series “Fruits of Labor,” which took more than two years to complete, Mason and McDowell expose the sexual abuse, forced labor, and toxic agrochemical exposure endured by the workers—men, women, and children—who together produce roughly 85 percent of the world’s supply of palm oil. Mason and McDowell interviewed more than 130 current and former laborers from eight different countries to capture the dark underside of one of our most ubiquitous commodities–and a $65-billion-a-year industry. More than three dozen corporations are implicated in these human-right violations; not a single one has questioned the findings of the investigative series. 

Tony Plohetiski, Austin-American Statesman
Tony Plohetski’s Austin-American Statesman investigation into one of Texas’s most well-known tough-on-crime counties represents an indispensable contribution to the growing body of reporting on police brutality. Plohetski demonstrated that the sheriff’s office of  Williamson County often engaged in high-speed chases and used excessive force, for the sake of Live PD, a reality TV show that follows police officers on patrol in real time. Unmasking this was anything but easy. Plohetski had to navigate a sheriff’s office intent on discrediting him, a prolonged legal battle, and the use of confidential sources. His perseverance contributed to the sheriff’s indictment and his defeat at the polls late last year. 

Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek, BuzzFeedNews
Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek—a journalist, an architect, and a programmer, respectively—teamed up for BuzzFeed News’s five-part interdisciplinary series “Built to Last.” By analyzing a dataset of more than 50,000 locations, the group identified 268 compounds in northwest China where Muslim minorities, including hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, are detained. Historically, the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang internment camps have been difficult to track and disclose, given Beijing’s secrecy and tight control over state affairs. (Rajagopalan herself was expelled from the country in 2018, after six years of reporting there.) “Built to Last” provides definitive and undeniable precision where readers have typically encountered mystery.

Tom Warren and Katie J. M. Baker, BuzzFeed News
“It’s one of the world’s most cherished charities,” write Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker in the cover letter accompanying their entry. “And it’s complicit in shocking human rights abuses against some of the globe’s most impoverished people.” In an exposé spanning six countries and supported by thousands of pages of documents and more than 100 interviews, Warren and Baker reveal the human cost of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s war on poaching. The human-rights abuses committed by WWF-funded rangers include waterboarding, gang rape, and murder. “WWF said it does not see indigenous communities as its target: The goal is to catch organized criminals, not people struggling to feed their families,” Warren and Baker explain. “Yet, time and again, indigenous groups—both small-fry hunters and innocent bystanders—say they suffer at the hands of the rangers.”

Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post
With his five-part series, “The Afghanistan Papers,” the investigative reporter Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post has produced what already feels like a definitive survey of the U.S. government’s deceptive and complicit role in America’s longest armed conflict. The trove of confidential documents that Whitlock analyzed and published took three years of bureaucratic and legal wrangling to obtain. The significance of this immense documentary record has been compared to that of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers. “As commanders in chief, Bush, Obama, and Trump all promised the public the same thing,” Whitlock writes. “They would avoid falling into the trap of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan. On that score, the presidents failed miserably.”

Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica
“Alaska is the size of Texas plus California plus both Carolinas, Florida and Maine.” So writes Alaska native Kyle Hopkins in “Lawless,” an investigation of local policing in a vast state that is also a “news desert”—a region that has little in the way of reliable local-news coverage. Hopkins found that in one small community after another, law enforcement was left to hire criminals. Hopkins’s work was supported by a partnership between the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. The “stakes are high. The same Alaska towns that have no police, or criminals working as cops, are in areas with some of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country,” Hopkins writes. “Leaders in some communities,” he continues, “say they have little alternative but to hire anyone they can.”

Hannah Dreier, ProPublica
It’s the way the system is supposed to work—or at least that’s how the story begins. Henry is a high school student on Long Island, an asylum-seeker born in El Salvador but inexorably drawn into gangland life. He has had enough and courageously reveals what he knows to local and federal authorities. They promise protection. But the promises mean nothing in the face of President Trump’s crackdown on gangs. Henry is rounded up, detained with gang members, and marked for deportation. Hannah Dreier’s investigation of Henry is one in a series of articles on gangs and immigration sponsored by ProPublica—by turns haunting and chilling, and the epitome of superb reporting and writing.

Christine Kenneally, BuzzFeed News
The sexual-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a worldwide phenomenon, and the statistics are often numbing: untold thousands of children and adolescents abused by countless priests and others wielding the authority of religion. Too often the full horror of the crimes is clouded by the scale of the numbers. Christine Kenneally set out to take a close look at a single institution. Led to the subject by an investigation of orphanages, and supported by BuzzFeed News, Kenneally’s ultimately focused on the tragic history of abuse and even murder at a single Catholic orphanage in Vermont—a gripping narrative that combines relentless enterprise and moral steadfastness.

Connor Sheets, Alabama Media Group
At first glance it seems like something out of Charles Dickens: a local sheriff is given vast sums to be used for the feeding of inmates in the county jail—and effectively told he can keep whatever he doesn’t spend. The incentives were perverse, and the sheriff—in modern-day Alabama—took full advantage: serving food that was literally unfit for human consumption while buying a vacation home on the Gulf Coast. As Connor Sheets discovered, this episode was but one in a long trail of malfeasance. His series for the Alabama Media Group is a case study of dogged investigative reporting—and of the need for the kind of high-quality local journalism that is now endangered.

John Woodrow Cox, The Washington Post
In an emotionally wrenching series of articles in The Washington Post, John Woodrow Cox gave voice to the experiences of children and teens affected by gun violence. His subjects ranged from a 7-year-old girl in South Carolina who lost one of her best friends in a shooting at her elementary school to six teenage girls from a Las Vegas high school who attended the country music concert where 58 people were felled by a mass murderer. “The Wounds They Carry” was the headline of the Las Vegas story, but it could have run over any of Cox’s pieces. With sensitivity and grace, he opened a window into the psychological damage that gun violence is inflicting on thousands of children and teenagers scarred by school shootings, road rage, gang violence, and domestic disputes.

Kristen Gelineau, Todd Pitman, and Esther Htusan, The Associated Press
The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are one of the most oppressed minority groups in the world. Kristen Gelineau, Todd Pitman, and Esther Htusan of The Associated Press bore witness to their suffering and, in the process, exposed as lies the government explanations of their brutal persecution. Gelineau revealed the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar security forces. “There was a sickening sameness to their stories,” she discovered. Pitman investigated the massacre of more than 82 Rohingya in a village, part of an Army campaign that drove some 650,000 refugees into Bangladesh. And Htusan, a native Myanmar journalist, showed how the government had fabricated evidence against the Rohingya. Facing death threats and possible imprisonment, she had to flee her own country because of her reporting.

Hannah Dreier, The Associated Press
As the AP’s Venezuela correspondent, Hannah Dreier has had the responsibility of reporting on the startling deterioration of a nation beset by government mismanagement and falling oil prices. She has done so with gripping accounts of the struggles of ordinary Venezuelans to survive. To depict the nation’s failing medical system, she showed how one girl’s scraped knee became a life-or-death ordeal. To show how the average Venezuelan spends 35 hours a month in food lines, Dreier waited in lines with them. She described how no one would help a woman who fainted in their midst because they did not want to lose their place in line. Wrote a Foreign Policy editor after reading one of Dreier’s pieces: “My God, Hannah Dreier has laid bare Venezuela’s nightmare.”

David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post
Among the hundreds of reporters who wrote about Donald Trump last year, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post stood out for the resourcefulness of his reporting, the originality of his work, and his commitment to the truth. Fahrenthold laid bare Trump’s false claims about his charitable giving and exposed the hypocrisy of Trump’s charitable foundation, forcing Trump to eventually shut it down. Ironically, like Trump, Fahrenthold recognized the importance of social media as a communications tool and was in the forefront of using it to dig up information. Fahrenthold’s unflinching coverage of Trump during one of the most tumultuous presidential campaigns in modern times served as a reminder that a diligent news media, far from being the enemy of the people, is essential to the health of a democracy.

Selam Gebrekidan, Stephen Grey, and Amina Ismail, Reuters
In “The Migration Machine,” Reuters correspondents Selam Gebrekidan, Stephen Grey and Amina Ismail expose the smuggling networks that profit from the transport of refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. In three riveting stories about migrants from Eritea, Gebrekidan documents their journeys, the role of ISIS in capturing migrants and turning them into sex slaves, and the indifference of government authorities to their plight. After months of tracking down survivors from the most deadly sea disaster in the Mediterranean in 2016, Grey and Ismail showed how smugglers deliberately let migrants drown by their capsized ship rather than allow them aboard their rescue boat. While they plucked fellow smugglers from the water, some 500 migrants perished.

Martha Mendoza, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, and Esther Htusan, The Associated Press
Ian Urbina, The New York Times
James Verini, The Atavist Magazine

Matthieu Aikins, Matter
Alex Campbell, BuzzFeed
Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker

Matthieu Aikins, Rolling Stone
Dave Philipps, Colorado Springs Gazette
Megan Twohey, Reuters

Alberto Arce, The Associated Press
David Barboza, The New York Times
Michael M. Phillips, The Wall Street Journal

Rukmini Callimachi, The Associated Press
Kathy Dobie, Harper’s Magazine
A.M Sheehan and Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, Advertiser Democrat

Emily Bazelon, Slate
John Bowe, Mother Jones
Jonathan M. Katz, The Associated Press

Ken Bensinger, Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
Sheri Fink, ProPublica
Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times

Barry Bearak and Ceclia Dugger, The New York Times
Richard Behar, Fast Company
Peter Godwin, Vanity Fair

Kelly Kennedy, Army Times
Joshua Kors, The Nation
Tom Vanden Brook, Peter Eisler, and Blake Morrison, USA Today

Rukmini Callimachi, The Associated Press
Jesse Hamilton, The Hartford Courant
William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair
Charles Forelle, James Bandler, Mark Maremont, and Steve Stecklow, The Wall Street Journal

Kurt Eichenwald, The New York Times
James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times
Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune
Cam Simpson, Chicago Tribune

David Grann, The New Yorker
Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
Maximillian Potter, 5280 Magazine
Elizabeth Rubin, The New York Times Magazine

Dan Christensen, Miami Daily Business Revie
Tom Junod, Esquire
John Lantigua, The Palm Beach Post
George Packer, The New Yorker