Why so much investigative journalism gets published in December

An Iraqi teen named Ferah was featured in a December 2017 AP report that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
An Iraqi teen named Ferah was featured in a December 2017 AP report that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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Here’s a secret: Some of the year’s best investigative journalism will drop this month.

I’m not saying I know of a forthcoming, bombshell report 😏, but I do know that if you want your print or audio story considered for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize you must publish by December 31, 2019.

News organizations will maintain that investigations are published only when they are ready. But editors and reporters know that if, ah, that story you’re working on can be ready in the next couple of weeks, that would be ideal, right?

The numbers bear this out, according to information available on the Pulitzer Prize website. Pulitzer submissions often include a collection of stories, and if you look at the publication dates of stories in the winning or finalist entries over the last five years almost a quarter—23%—were published in December.


Possibly more suggestive of a Pulitzer push is the contrast between the peak in December and the dearth of pieces published in January.

Last year’s December work included ProPublica’s investigation of sexual assault in immigrant children’s shelters, the Washington Post’s recounting of Jamal Khashoggi’s final 18 months, and several stories in the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s yearlong coverage of official missteps around the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Already this month the Washington Post is out with a huge story about what officials admitted privately about the war in Afghanistan, in what’s being called a modern-day Pentagon Papers.

So keep an eye out for powerful stories from reliable national outlets such as ProPublica, the New York Times, Washington Post, and, may I add, Quartz. But also watch for work from local powerhouses such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and the Miami Herald.

Pay special attention to the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Last year 15 stories that went on to Pulitzer fame, in winning or finalist packages, were published during that time.

Journalists love a deadline.