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ProPublica’s Ginger Thompson Wins John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism

ProPublica senior reporter Ginger Thompson is the recipient of the 2019 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. Bestowed by Columbia Journalism School, the Chancellor Award recognizes one journalist each year for their cumulative accomplishments. Thompson’s work has largely covered the human consequences of federal policy on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, from the war on drugs to immigration.

A reporter at ProPublica since 2014, Thompson has written extensively about the drug war, with a focus on the secret, and largely unsuccessful, roles Washington has played in stemming the flow of illegal drugs around the world. Her 2017 investigation “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico” told the story of a Mexican town that suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of a drug cartel whose leaders kidnapped and killed dozens — possibly hundreds — of men, women and children. In a remarkable feat of reporting, Thompson uncovered that the massacre was inadvertently set in motion by a botched DEA operation. Her 2015 story “The Narco-terror Trap” investigated the DEA’s claims that terrorists have gotten into the illegal drug trade to finance their activities, raising questions about whether links between drugs and terrorism exist at all.

In 2018, Thompson obtained audio of sobbing immigrant children who had been separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The audio, secretly recorded from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, and Thompson’s accompanying story exposed the reality of zero tolerance and what was happening in facilities closed to public view. Lawmakers cited the recording as they condemned the administration’s policy, and, within 48 hours of Thompson’s story, the president signed an executive order to end it and keep migrant families together. The story kicked off a ProPublica series that was honored as a finalist for the Pulitzer Gold Medal for public service. The series also won the first-ever Peabody Catalyst Award and the George Polk Award for immigration reporting, among other honors.

“Ginger Thompson is a fearless and versatile investigative reporter who has uncovered impactful stories about the world’s most secretive institutions,” said Dean Steve Coll, a member of the Chancellor jury. “Her work from the past three decades reflects the courage and integrity of the late John Chancellor.”

Before ProPublica, Thompson spent 15 years at the New York Times, including time as a Washington correspondent and an investigative reporter. She served as the Mexico City bureau chief for both the Times and the Baltimore Sun. While at the Times, she covered Mexico’s transformation from a one-party state to a fledgling multiparty democracy and parachuted into breaking news events across the region, including Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

“The secret to Ginger’s long, distinguished career is her unwavering focus on injustice,” ProPublica senior editor Tracy Weber said. “Undeterred by difficulty or risk, she follows a moral imperative to tell the stories the world needs to hear and prod the powerful to redress wrongs. Everyone at ProPublica is proud to have Ginger as a colleague.”

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