Undark magazine wins George Polk Award for Environmental Reporting

In only its third year of existence, Undark magazine, a digital publication of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program at MIT (KSJ), has been awarded a prestigious George Polk Award. The prize, announced at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 19, recognized the work of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Larry C. Price and contributing Undark reporters for a seven-part series on global air pollution, published between August and December 2018, called “Breathtaking.” 

Conceived and orchestrated by Undark’s editorial team and supported in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Breathtaking project visited seven countries on five continents to document — in text, drone footage, still photography, and innovative 360-degree video — the impacts of fine particulate air pollution, also called PM2.5. Such pollution claims more than 4 million lives annually.

“It’s a topic that impacts virtually everyone to some degree, and yet it is far too often overlooked,” said Undark’s editor in chief, Tom Zeller Jr., a former New York Times staff writer and editor and a 2013-’14 MIT research fellow with KSJ. “We’re delighted that the Polk committee has recognized Larry’s work and that of our entire team — and we hope that this award will bring more awareness to this pressing issue.”

The George Polk Awards, established in 1949 in memory of CBS correspondent George Polk, who was murdered while covering the Greek Civil War, are conferred annually by New York’s Long Island University. They are considered to be among the most prestigious in journalism.

In addition to Price and Undark, the Polk committee granted prizes in 16 categories for journalistic work done in 2018 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and ProPublica, among other outlets. More than 550 entries were considered — a record year, according to the award’s organizers. Previous winners include Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Christiane Amanpour, Norman Mailer, and Diane Sawyer.

“Few years have been as fruitful as this one,” New York Times journalist John Darnton, now the curator of the Polk Awards, said in a statement accompanying the award announcements. “These winners tell us that the best of our journalists remain resilient, courageous, dedicated, and undeterred by attacks on their ability and integrity.”

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