2021: Nadja Drost, The California Sunday Magazine
“Then there was the death that they couldn’t see but that clogged their senses. It was the fetid smell seeping through patches of brush. It was the vultures circling and squawking overhead,” Nadja Drost writes in her California Sunday Magazine cover story, “When can we finally rest?” For seven days, Drost and the photographers Bruno Federico and Carlos Villalón walked 66 miles across the Darién Gap—a strip of dense, roadless jungle on the Colombia-Panama border—to document the dangerous journeys of migrants on their way to the United States. Drost is a meticulous and empathetic reporter. Her reconstruction of the day-to-day challenges of passage across this hostile, drug-trafficking landscape is detailed and compelling. At the same time, her detours into the personal histories of the Cameroonians and Pakistanis she accompanied reveal a deep human understanding. Drost’s reporting exemplifies the highest standards of the Michael Kelly Award.
2020: Azam Ahmed, The New York Times
The horrifying cycle of violence that afflicts so many Latin American countries is rendered with deeply felt humanity in Azam Ahmed’s five-part New York Times series, “Kill, or Be Killed: Latin America’s Homicide Crisis.” Ahmed explores the root causes of the many thousands of killings in the region every year. He moves beyond the numbers to paint memorable portraits: a brave Honduran pastor, a remorseful Mexican killer, a teenage Guatemalan mother. “Underpinning nearly every killing is a climate of impunity that, in some countries, leaves more than 95 percent of homicides unsolved,” Ahmed writes. “And the state is a guarantor of the phenomenon—governments hollowed out by corruption are either incapable or unwilling to apply the rule of law, enabling criminal networks to dictate the lives of millions.”
2019: Maggie Michael, Nariman Ayman El-Mofty, and Maad al-Zikry, The Associated Press
The on-the-ground complexities of the ongoing civil war in Yemen, supported and exacerbated by outside powers, are nearly impossible for outsiders to follow. Stepping back, we all know this: one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time is unfolding before our eyes, abetted and worsened by the intervention of actors who shoulder none of the consequences. Confronting continual threats from all sides, reporter Maggie Michael, photographer Nariman Ayman El-Mofty, and video journalist Maad al-Zikry filed stories for The Associated Press that consistently broke new ground, brought the nature of the conflict vividly alive, and exposed the ruthless cynicism of those perpetuating the conflict.
2018: Dionne Searcey, The New York Times
Dionne Searcey’s coverage of the havoc wreaked by the terrorist group Boko Haram has been compelling, enterprising, and brave. Searcey told the stories of girls sent by Boko Haram on suicide missions with explosives strapped to their chests. She described how rape victims of Boko Haram escaped captivity only to be violated by Nigerian soldiers who were supposed to protect them. She revealed how the Nigerian military, in its zeal to eradicate Boko Haram, has massacred scores of innocent civilians. Her coverage has caused her to be detained and threatened by Nigerian authorities, but it has also won her widespread praise. Said Mausi Segun, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, “Dionne’s reporting on Nigeria’s Boko Haram conflict has been nothing but phenomenal.”
2017: Shane Bauer, Mother Jones
Determined to chronicle the everyday realities inside a private prison, Shane Bauer spent four months as a $9-an-hour corrections officer at a medium security prison in Louisiana after applying for the job using his own name and work history. His resulting article depicted a facility barely able to function under the cost-cutting pressures from the nation’s second largest prison company. Bauer’s article showed readers how insufficient staffing increased danger for guards and prisoners alike and how he struggled to maintain his humanity in a setting where physical and emotional assault was all too commonplace. Bauer’s article had immediate impact: after its publication, the Department of Justice announced it would end its use of private prisons.