By: Jim Rosenberg
If there were any doubts after winning the Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting from Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and the Worth Bingham Prize from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Raquel Rutledge today won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for her year-long “Cashing in on Kids” series about failures of the child-care system in Wisconsin.
Examining the state’s child-care subsidy, Rutledge found children endangered by a system shot through with mismanagement, crime and many millions in wasted tax money. Her series led to criminal investigations and legislation that seeks to prevent future fraud and criminality in day care.
It was the newspaper’s seventh Pulitzer, and “the tension’s huge” in the newsroom, Rutledge said of the moments leading up to this afternoon’s announcement of the winners. “There’s not a lick of journalism being done right now,” she said, adding that given the shape of the industry, “it’s just fun to have something to celebrate.”
As for the Pulitzer, she said the other prestigious prizes lent no certainty to today’s award because there were other competitions where her work “didn’t even get a nod” — owing, she says, to all the other good work being done. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
Rutledge said her series originated with a story of a baby who died after being left in a day-care van overnight, followed by a call from a government employee who said the child never should have been there. The employee was a whistleblower with documents, frustrated after getting nowhere with superiors.
“Once we started writing stories, people came out of the woodwork,” and the reporting encouraged “everybody coming forward,” said Rutledge.