Pulitzer Center Update

Breakthrough Award Winner Gives Freelancers Advice on Reporting on Trauma

Grantee Victoria Mckenzie joined the Pulitzer Center on Thursday, January 21, 2021, to discuss her $10,000 Breakthrough Journalism Award and Nowhere to Turn, the 2019 Pulitzer Center-supported project that earned Mckenzie the award out of a pool of 94 applicants. 

The project, which Mckenzie collaborated on with the Associated Press and National Native News, investigates the high rates of sexual assault against Alaska Native women and the systemic failure of law enforcement to get survivors justice. Mckenzie focuses on Nome, a remote Alaskan town overlooking the Bering Sea, as a case study, uncovering the stories of several local Alaska Native women who have had their experiences of abuse erased by the authorities they went to for support.

In her conversation with Pulitzer Center staff members Naomi Andu and Ann Peters, Mckenzie discussed the challenge of working as a freelance journalist in an isolated environment for long stretches of time, and the necessity of seeking out support networks like The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

“Don’t underestimate how things might affect you,” Mckenzie said. “In the end, reporters, we’re really tough, but we need the support of our colleagues.”

She also detailed the steps she took to avoid “parachute journalism” as someone from outside the community who was reporting on a marginalized group. First and foremost, she did a lot of listening.

“Before I even put the proposal together, I talked with so many groups in Alaska,” Mckenzie said. “I took my direction from what they were saying they needed — what kind of reporting they said they felt would be helpful, and what kind of reporting in the past had been harmful.”

Submissions are now open for the 2021 Breakthrough Journalism Award, which recognizes Pulitzer Center-affiliated freelance journalists who produce excellent work covering underreported issues. 

“As a freelancer, you submit the story that you worked really hard on in a silo for a long time, and then it’s just over,” Mckenzie said. “It meant a lot to have my effort recognized.”