The American Society of Magazine Editors announced that ProPublica won the National Magazine Award for reporting. The award recognized Pamela Colloff’s story, co-published with the New York Times Magazine, on the use of jailhouse informants to secure convictions.
Jailhouse informants are notoriously unreliable witnesses, and their testimony is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. In He’s a Liar, a Con Artist and a Snitch. His Testimony Could Soon Send a Man to His Death, Colloff focused on a notorious con artist named Paul Skalnik who, in at least 40 different criminal cases in Florida and Texas, miraculously extracted richly detailed “confessions” from his fellow inmates. Skalnik gave powerful testimony that prosecutors used to secure convictions, receiving lighter sentences and earlier release dates in return.
Colloff’s story also explored the case of death row inmate James Dailey. Skalnik’s testimony against him helped prosecutors secure a guilty verdict and death sentence, despite evidence that points to Dailey’s possible innocence. Prosecutors presented Skalnik as an honest truth-teller who came forward at great personal risk, and jurors took them at their word in rendering the verdict.
To uncover the truth about Skalnik’s numerous testimonies, Colloff’s investigation drew on thousands of pages of police reports, arrest records, jail logs, probation and parole records, pretrial interviews and correspondence, as well as voluminous court records back to the 1970s. She filed more than 50 public records requests for documents and interviewed dozens of people who crossed paths with Skalnik.
After Colloff’s story was published, newspaper editorial boards and columnists across Florida cited her reporting in expressing their concern about Dailey’s possible execution. Dailey’s case is now under new scrutiny in a Florida circuit court, and Gov. DeSantis has indicated that he will hold off on setting an execution date until Dailey’s appeals have played out in the courts.
See a list of all this year’s National Magazine Award winners here.