Seattle Times wins Pulitzer Prize for Boeing 737 Max coverage

The accolade was awarded to reporters Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, Mike Baker and Lewis Kamb.

By Michelle Baruchman / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The Seattle Times has been awarded a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its yearlong coverage of the two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max jet.

The top journalism accolade, which was awarded Monday to reporters Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, Mike Baker and Lewis Kamb, is the newspaper’s 11th Pulitzer Prize and third win in the National Reporting category. It is also The Times’ third Pulitzer for coverage of Boeing.

The Seattle Times was the first to reveal how Boeing misinformed the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines about key features of the plane’s automated flight control system. Ongoing coverage included stories, photography and graphics that revealed how the federal regulator was not fully informed as Boeing expanded the powers of its MCAS flight control system, the automated software whose malfunctioning killed 346 people.

The Times’ reporting showed how a dysfunctional regulatory process allowed a flawed design to be approved while the FAA increasingly delegated responsibility for safety assessments to the manufacturer. Management at Boeing and the FAA sought shortcuts and cost-cutting solutions against the advice of low-level officials in both organizations.

Stories examined the human toll of the crashes, the impact to the region’s economy, the complexity of airplane engineering and the convoluted threads of air safety regulation.

The announcement, which was broadcast over a live video stream, was made as the country and world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gates, who has been The Times’ aerospace reporter since 2003, said the coronavirus crisis has pushed Boeing toward an unprecedented reckoning, at a time when massive change to the company is necessary and the need to account for the jet’s flawed development has not gone away.

“Boeing now must not only fix the defects but also fix the culture that produced them,” he said. “I sincerely hope it will do so.”

Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores said the award underscores the value of local and regional news organizations throughout the country.

“Independent voices and deep digging for the truth do matter,” she said. “Our coverage ultimately has been about finding the truth for families who lost loved ones in the two 737 Max crashes — and about keeping air travel safe for the flying public. We’re honored our work has been recognized by the Pulitzers.”

Many people across the newsroom contributed to the coverage, including Business Editor Rami Grunbaum, Managing Editor Ray Rivera, business reporter Paul Roberts, photographer Mike Siegel, graphic artist Mark Nowlin, interactives developer Hilary Fung, Photo Editor Fred Nelson, graphic artist Gabriel Campanario, news coordinator Laura Gordon, business producer Judy Averill and many others.

In addition to the Pulitzer, The Times’ Boeing 737 Max coverage has been honored with the George Polk Award for business reporting, the Scripps-Howard Award for business reporting and two Best in Business awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. It also was a finalist for an Investigative Reporters & Editors award in business reporting.

A Pulitzer win is “an amazing feat for a local metropolitan newspaper,” said Frank Blethen, the longtime publisher of The Times, which is one of the few remaining independently owned regional newspapers in the country. “We cobbled together precious resources following the Great Recession to carve a path to shine brighter than ever when our community needs us most. We have remained a family that is focused on our mission and public service. And today, members of our family really shined.”

The Times’ most recent Pulitzer before Monday was awarded to the entire staff in 2015 for breaking news coverage of a devastating landslide in Oso.

Also honored in the National Reporting category were T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi of ProPublica, for their investigation into America’s 7th Fleet after a series of deadly naval accidents in the Pacific Ocean.

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