Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy’s coverage of ecological destruction, violence and terror in the Amazon rainforest has won a George Polk Award, a top honor in journalism, organizers announced Monday.
McCoy, The Post’s Rio de Janeiro bureau chief, will receive the environmental reporting award for “The Amazon, Undone,” a 2022 series that examined how ruthless deforestation, the policies of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and the American appetite for beef are rapidly destabilizing the rainforest, which is one of the planet’s last bulwarks against unchecked global warming.
“The forest is racing toward what scientists warn is a tipping point, when it can no longer maintain its base ecology and suffers a spreading dieback,” McCoy wrote in a recap of the project, which took him hundreds of miles through the jungle. It was produced with contributions from reporter Gabriela Sá Pessoa, photographers Raphael Alves and Rafael Vilela, and others on The Post’s reporting, photo, video, graphics, design and data desks.
The Polk Awards, presented by Long Island University since 1949 and named after a CBS correspondent killed during the Greek Civil War, gave out 16 prizes among more than 500 submissions for 2022. Several honors were reserved for what awards curator John Darnton described in a news release as “superb war reporting, done at great peril” from Ukraine.
New York Times journalists took three prizes, including the award for foreign reporting, which went to the newspaper’s entire staff for its coverage of the war. The Times’s Lynsey Addario won the photojournalism award for what presenters called “an iconic photo of the bodies of a woman and her two children alongside a friend who lay dying moments after a mortar struck them.” The Times also won the education award “for detailing the abject failure of New York’s Hasidic yeshivas to provide 50,000 boys with a basic education despite receiving more than a quarter of a billion dollars in public funds annually.”
The prize for war reporting went to several journalists from the Associated Press, three of whom hid from Russian troops in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol before making “a harrowing escape through 15 enemy checkpoints,” award organizers said.
This is the second Polk honor for McCoy, a Wisconsin native who joined The Post in 2014. His series on how lead-poisoning victims in Baltimore were convinced to sell their lawsuit windfalls for pennies on the dollar earned him the regional reporting award in 2016.
McCoy wrote “The Amazon, Undone” in a largely narrative style, publishing the video-and-graphics-enhanced series over the course of a year. The first installment, “Death in the Forest,” examined fires, blight and economically motivated killings along a highway that cuts through the forest. Other stories documented the political interests helping push the Amazon toward ruin. “If the Amazon is to die, it will be beef that kills it. And America will be an accomplice,” McCoy wrote in an April story, which traced a link between the end of U.S. restrictions on beef imports and the clearing of the jungle. Award organizers called the series “eye-opening.”
The Polk honorees have been invited to a ceremony at the New York Athletic Club in April. The full list of winners follows:
Foreign reporting: The staff of the New York Times for coverage of the war in Ukraine.
War reporting: Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Lori Hinnant of the Associated Press for their narrative of the siege of Mariupol.
National reporting: Josh Gerstein, Alexander Ward, Peter Canellos and the staff of Politico for revealing a draft of the Supreme Court opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade’s guarantees of abortion access.
Local reporting: John Archibald, Ashley Remkus and Ramsey Archibald of AL.com for reporting on a local police department’s use of dubious fines to massively expand its revenue at the expense of poor residents.
State reporting: Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke of Reuters for revealing how staffing agencies in Alabama used fake documents to put migrant children to work in factories and slaughterhouses.
Health reporting: Kendall Taggart, John Templon, Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed News for “Profit, Pain, and Private Equity,” which showed how the quality of care in group homes for people with disabilities diminished after the company KKR took them over.
Financial reporting: Ian Allison and Tracy Wang of CoinDesk for their early exposés of crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who is now facing federal fraud charges.
Environmental reporting: Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post for “The Amazon, Undone.”
Education reporting: Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal of the New York Times for their coverage of failures at New York’s subsidized Hasidic yeshiva schools.
Justice reporting: Brett Murphy of ProPublica for reports debunking a prosecutorial technique purported to detect guilt in the voices of 911 callers.
Political reporting: Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Ana Ceballos, Mary Ellen Klas and the staff of the Miami Herald for their reporting on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Foreign television reporting: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Kavitha Chekuru and Laila Al-Arian for an Al Jazeera English segment presenting evidence that the Israeli military killed the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
National television reporting: Shimon Prokupecz and his CNN crew for coverage of the bungled law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex.
Photojournalism: Lynsey Addario for her photo of a fleeing family killed by a mortar strike in Ukraine.
Special award: Theo Baker of the Stanford Daily for reporting that manipulated images were used to support the research of a renowned neuroscientist at the school.
Sydney H. Schanberg Prize: Alex Perry for his investigative story in Outside magazine about an ISIS attack in Mozambique that is estimated to have killed hundreds of people.
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