Acclaimed stories about migrant border crossings, the low quality of life in rural Appalachia and President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody reign in Syria were awarded prestigious Livingston Awards on Tuesday.

Livingston Awards Director Lynette Clemetson, also director of the University of Michigan’s Wallace House, explained the Livingston Awards are a set of prestigious awards — categorized by local, national and international reporting — for journalists under the age of 35. Though the program stems from the University, judges and winners come from all across the nation.

“Wallace House has two programs: one, the Knight Wallace Fellowship for journalists which is a residential program here at the University of Michigan for mid-career journalists and the Livingston Awards, which are an annual journalism prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in journalism,” she said. “People often refer to the Livingston Award as ‘Pulitzer’s for the young.’ ”

The awards are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University in order to support a generation of budding writers, as well as foster excellence in the field of journalism.

The $10,000 prizes for winners are regarded as the largest prize for all-media journalism in the country.

Clemetson explained although the 2017 award winners were all print pieces, judges evaluate work based on depth and quality rather than form. She said she would not be surprised to see future winners tell stories in digital forms, such as through a podcast or documentary.

“Journalists were out doing incredibly nuanced, high-level in-depth reporting on topics that were right at the heart of the national conversation,” she said. “It just happens that the three winners this year happened to be for written stories, but the Livingstons award excellence in all forms. So, in coming years, I’m sure that we will see winners, where that same level of excellence is displayed through a podcast or through a video documentary or through some sort of an interactive piece of journalism. It’s not about the form, it’s about the depth and the level of excellence brought to the work that’s transformative in the way people interact with the story.”

The winner for local reporting, Claire Galofaro, wrote a series titled “Surviving Appalachia” which detailed the impoverished living conditions of a working-class struggling to survive. She covered the rise of support for Donald Trump in the region, as well as the rapidly growing opioid epidemic.

“The lesson I learned most vividly from reporting these stories is that a generally-improving American economy means nothing to people who look out their window and see only devastation and decay,” Galofaro said. “There is a consequence of forsaking these blue-collar places.”

Along with the three awards for young journalists — Galofaro,  Brooke Jarvis and Ben Taub — the Livingston Awards also recognized the late Gwen Ifill with the Richard M. Clurman Award for on-the-job mentoring of young journalists. Ifill was known for her work as co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” as well as moderator and managing editor for “Washington Week.”

Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, told the Michigan News Ifill used her success as a way to guide other journalists towards reaching their full potential.

“Gwen provided counsel and guidance to hundreds of journalists in a way that was not available to her as a young journalist,” said Riley. “She rose to the top of her profession, all with one hand reached behind her back to help others rise.”

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