The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced Tuesday that ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier is the winner of the Hillman Prize in the magazine category for “Trapped in Gangland.” Co-published with New York magazine, Newsday and the New York Times Magazine, the series detailed how the government’s bungled crackdown on MS-13 has torn apart the lives of Latino immigrants on Long Island.
WBUR and Boston University also announced this week that Dreier is the winner of the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize for “The Runaways,” an audio story in the series produced with “This American Life.”
For her first story, “A Betrayal,” Dreier spent months gaining the trust of Henry, a teenage informant who helped the FBI catch fellow MS-13 members. He believed authorities would offer him a new life, but instead they handed him over to ICE. Another article featured Alex, an asylum-seeker accused of gang membership and deported for drawing a devil — his school mascot but also an MS-13 symbol — after a school-based police officer reported the doodle.
In response to these powerful narratives, ICE changed a practice that jeopardizes informants, and a fundraiser brought in $35,000 to help Henry find a safe place to live once he was deported. Alex’s school district removed police from school buildings, and, along with other districts, it sought a formal agreement with the police limiting officers’ roles in schools.
“In a time when this country’s highest powers have taken it as their business to demean the work of journalists, it is particularly significant for us to honor those who have taken up the tools of journalism to challenge corrupt power wherever it may reside,” Hillman judge Ta-Nehisi Coates said.
In “The Runaways,” an hourlong audio story, Dreier documents how the Suffolk County Police Department failed to investigate more than a dozen MS-13 gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. When teens disappeared, the police missed leads, ignored important evidence, failed to follow their own procedures (such as providing Spanish interpreters for parents who struggled to communicate with officers) and brushed aside distraught parents who had key information. They told parents that their missing children were runaways and classified them that way internally, which led to more perfunctory investigations.
Days after the story aired on “This American Life,” the Suffolk County Legislature forced the Police Department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. The department also hired a civilian liaison to work with Latino residents and committed $215,000 toward a campaign to recruit more Spanish-speaking employees.
“Hannah Dreier’s ‘The Runaways’ is solid reporting of the most important kind, reporting that holds public officials to account for their incompetence, indifference and hollow self-serving claims of victory,” said Robert Siegel, retired host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” who served as a judge for the Schorr Journalism Prize.