The Star’s Melinda Henneberger earned one of journalism’s most prestigious honors for the third year in a row when she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize on Friday.
Henneberger, who was named vice president and opinion editor for The Star earlier this year, was recognized last year for editorial writing. This year she is a finalist in the commentary category. It is the fourth year in a row that The Star has been a finalist for a Pulitzer award.
Henneberger has been a member of the newspaper’s editorial board since January 2017.
The seven Henneberger columns honored by the Pulitzer Board exposed failings in the criminal justice system and called out racism in our own community.
She pushed for accountability for Kansas prosecutor Jacquie Spradling, who has been accused of misconduct in multiple cases. A state disciplinary panel just last week recommended Spradling be disbarred.
And she asked tough questions of Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith about why, in the six days after George Floyd’s death, Smith said nothing about his murder. As Henneberger noted, when Smith finally did appear at a news conference, he did not say Floyd’s name.
Henneberger argued for sparing Lisa Montgomery from the death penalty, pointing to a history of abuse and mental illness long before her murder conviction.
Other columns showed how serious crimes of domestic violence wind up in municipal court alongside traffic tickets, and how a woman who reported her rape to Kansas City police was told, as captured on a video of the interview, “Well you’re alive, right?”
She told the story of a school principal who ran onto a volleyball court to order players to take off their “Together We Rise” warmup shirts, fearful of the consequences of allowing the message of racial unity.
Her best read column featured a biracial family in the Northland who endured racist pushback from their new neighbors after they moved here from California.
Within two days of that piece, more than 600 people wrote to ask how to invite the Roland family to dinner or arrange a playdate or send a gift basket.
“Three consecutive years of Pulitzer Prize recognition for Melinda is an epic achievement,” said Mike Fannin, The Star’s president and editor. “It’s also a testament to the consistently deep and serious journalism she delivers to Kansas City Star readers. We’re delighted once again for Melinda and her family.”
Henneberger’s columns and editorials represent the best of opinion journalism, McClatchy Opinion editor Peter St. Onge said.
“She’s a powerful writer and dogged reporter who makes a true difference in her community, and I’m thrilled the Pulitzer judges have affirmed that once again.”
Two years ago, Henneberger earned the national Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing in the 2019 News Leaders Association Awards. In 2018, she won the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award for opinion writing for “a portfolio of work that is a revealing look at the people and political issues driving conversations in the heartland.”
“The real honor is to get to show up for people like the wrongfully convicted Celester McKinney and his cousin Brian Betts, who should not be in prison, and for the many victims of Roger Golubski, the former Kansas City, Kansas, police captain who should be behind bars,” Henneberger said.
“Local journalism could not be more important, especially when democracy is so fragile, and like all of us in this business, I never lose sight of how lucky I am to get to tell the stories of those you otherwise might not hear about,” Henneberger said. “I’ll always be grateful to Colleen Nelson for bringing me here, and to Mike Fannin and all of my talented Star colleagues for making this a great place to do journalism.”
Before coming to The Star, Henneberger worked for a number of news outlets, including the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, The Washington Post and The bioreports, where she was a reporter for 10 years in New York, Washington and Rome. She was also a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Before Henneberger’s Pulitzer finalist honors in 2019, 2020 and this year, The Star was named a finalist for the Pulitzer’s top prize, Public Service for the government transparency series, “Why so secret, Kansas?”
The series was surpassed only by The bioreports and The New Yorker magazine, which shared the Pulitzer gold for their combined body of work on Miramax film producer Harvey Weinstein and workplace sexual harassment that ignited the #MeToo movement.