Father-Son Duo in Alabama Wins Pulitzer, Bucking Headwinds in Local News
One of the best moments in John Archibald’s life came in 2018, when he won a Pulitzer Prize for columns published by Alabama Media Group, the largest news publisher in the state.
He topped that on Monday. Mr. Archibald won a second prize, for local reporting, as part of a team of journalists that included his son, Ramsey Archibald, investigating a municipal police force.
“I feel stunned,” Mr. Archibald, 60, said in an interview as the win was announced. “It’s a great honor. And to do it with your kid — I’m telling you, that’s gold.”
AL.com’s four-person team — which also included the investigative editors Ashley Remkus and Challen Stephens — took home one of the two Pulitzer Prizes won on Monday by Alabama Media Group, an astounding feat for a newsroom with roughly 110 journalists. The organization also won the commentary prize for columns by Kyle Whitmire, a political columnist who examined how Alabama’s Confederate history still affects the state today.
As readers abandon traditional print newspapers and corporate owners close newsrooms, fewer news organizations have the financial wherewithal to investigate local government and maintain top-flight journalism.
AL.com has found itself navigating those economic headwinds. Owned by Advance Local, a national newspaper chain, Alabama Media Group used to publish three newspapers: The Birmingham News, Mobile’s Press-Register and The Huntsville Times. Kelly Ann Scott, AL.com’s editor in chief, announced in February that the company would stop printing those newspapers, citing changing reader and advertiser habits, directing readers of those newspapers to AL.com.
But Ms. Scott said in an interview on Monday that Alabama Media Group had more journalists than it did five years ago.
“Local journalism matters so much right now in America,” Ms. Scott said. “It’s so great to see stories and commentary like this by people who love the places they’re from come to the national conversation.”
Ramsey Archibald, 31, a data reporter for Alabama Media Group, joined his father and Ms. Remkus in January 2022, a few months into the reporting project. The team was looking into tips that accused the local police force in the town of Brookside of preying on residents to increase its revenue. The stories eventually prompted the resignation of the police chief and set off a state audit.
The Pulitzer win is the second for Ms. Remkus, who also won in 2021 for a yearlong investigation into the damage that police dogs inflict on Americans. Ms. Remkus said in an interview that it took a second win for her to realize that the first hadn’t been a fluke. She celebrated her last prize win by adopting a cat, Samuel Pulitzer Seaborn, and she’s looking forward to getting a second rescue after the hubbub subsides.
Ms. Remkus added that she was optimistic about the future of local news in Alabama despite the company’s recent decision to stop printing newspapers.
“Whether it’s coming in the form of a newspaper or whether it’s coming online, it’s the journalism that matters,” Ms. Remkus said before pausing to let Samuel into the room. “And I don’t think that the delivery method is stopping us from doing that work.”
Ramsey Archibald celebrated the Pulitzer win on Monday at his home in Birmingham. He said in an interview that the investigation into Brookside was done primarily through in-person visits to the town, and phone calls and video conferences with his colleagues, because his company had not yet put a formal return-to-office plan in place. In fact, Alabama Media Group’s staff members in Birmingham are between newsrooms at the moment, preventing the team from popping champagne alongside cubicles underneath fluorescent lights.
John Archibald said that he had worried about the prospect of his son getting into the journalism industry, which has been freighted with economic anxiety for the past several decades. But he said he knew from experience that it was useless to try to stand in his son’s way.
Also: He was out of town on a reporting assignment when Ramsey Archibald was hired.
“I would never discourage him, because from my own life, I know that the only thing that matters is what kind of feeling you get from your job,” John Archibald said.