It goes without saying, but let’s put it out there anyway: Quality independent journalism is a valuable asset to society. Small publications bear witness to government meetings, day-to-day life, and the heartbreaking tragedies of heartland communities. Publications, small and large, can hold powerful people and governments accountable and expose corruption, atrocities, and other insupportable situations to the public eye. Reporters ask hard questions and put their own lives at risk to cover dangerous situations like wars and natural disasters.

In this article, we’ll share some of the most impactful reporting of 2023 on topics like the war in Ukraine, stories covering the potential impact of generative AI, and more. Keep reading to see our top five selections from the work of hardworking journalists in the U.S. and abroad this year.

Number One: The Russia-Ukraine War

The staff of the New York Times received a 2023 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the war in Ukraine. The award notes the staff’s “distinguished example of reporting on international affairs, using any available journalistic tool.”

The NYT spent eight months investigating the deaths of Ukrainian people in the besieged city of Bucha. An article by Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak, Dmitriy Khavin, Christoph Koettl, Haley Willis, Alexander Cardia, Natalie Reneau, and Malachy Browne revealed the results of their months-long investigation that despite Russian authorities’ comments to the contrary, the Russian military was responsible for the massacre of civilians in Bucha.

Reporters spent months in the city, conducting in-person interviews, combing through security camera footage, and getting government records. Combined, the evidence was damning and may lead to future investigations on an international stage.

The Associated Press also received a 2023 Pulitzer Prize for its work covering the effects of the war on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The nonprofit newsgathering organization received the public service award for “a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper, magazine or news site through the use of its journalistic resources.”

The stories exposed the heartbreaking results of the constant shelling from Russia on the city, from piles of dead people in the streets to the bombing of a children’s hospital. Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka, Vasilisa Stepanenko, and Lori Hinnant covered the entire 86-day siege on the city, providing unflinching reports of the death and destruction caused.

Number 2: The Affects of Fentanyl

The staff of the Washington Post received an Online Journalism Award for its online coverage of impactful stories, including the 107,000 drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021, 2/3s of which were fentanyl overdoses. The 2023 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom Award was given to the staff for its sophisticated coverage of complicated issues. It was “the kind of journalism that challenges beliefs and could lead to cultural change,” according to a judge of the awards.

The interactive article about fentanyl stated in plain language the massive impact the drug was having on the population. It showed how it kills more people than various dangers like gunshots and showed the drug’s power compared to other substances like morphine.

 Courtney Kan, Nick Miroff, Scott Higham, Steven Rich, and Tyler Remmel penned the article, which comprised a seven-month investigation tracing the origins and the final destination of batches of fentanyl.

Number 3: A Former U.S. President is Indicted

Newsgatherer Scripps included its article about the indictment of former president Donald J. Trump in its roundup of the most impactful news from 2023. The article, by Kellan Howell, Joe St. George, and Brandi Scarber, notes the historic impact of the event, in which a former U.S. president was indicted for the first time ever.

In April, Trump was hit with 34 felony counts alleging violations of state election law, mischaracterization of payments on tax forms, and federal campaign finance violations. Trump has been in and out of court – and the headlines – all year, as he clashed with judges in his civil fraud trial and made comments about their staff members on his social media platform. 

Since Trump is involved in several different criminal and civil court cases, the Associated Press has a project tracking the progress of all of the cases on one webpage.

As of December 7th, Trump was still in court for the civil fraud trial, in which New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks $250 million from the former president and sanctions on his ability to do business in the state.

Number 4: Generative AI and Its Potential Effects

With the rise of generative AI, including ChatGPT, many websites and publications have earnestly covered the ways in which GenAI is being used right now and how it might change different areas of our lives in the future. We wrote in July about the ethical guidelines for integrating AI into newsrooms.

In November, Ron Adner and Dr. James N. Weinstein wrote “GenAI Could Transform How Health Care Works,” covering the booming popularity of ChatGPT and its ilk as well as the ethical quandaries to using the relatively untested technology for healthcare decisions.

 It discusses in detail how GenAI might change various aspects of healthcare, from billing to the definition of quality care. They explain how the healthcare industry hopes to enable a more robust understanding of a patient’s life and circumstances and use that knowledge to guide their recommendations and actions. Adner and Weinstein highlight the increased responsibility for transparency that comes from the use of AI in healthcare. 

In December, Thad Rueter wrote for GovTech, an online publication, about how GenAI began to gain ground in government technology in 2023. Some of the uses of GenAI he highlighted were drafting press releases from governments to the press and public and analysis of budget narratives.

 As GenAI’s abilities and effects transform, all aspects of business will need to be covered in the same amount of detail.

Number 5: Israel-Hamas War

This tragic situation is still developing, but its global impact requires us to make room for it regardless. On Oct. 7, 2023, the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages. In response, Israel has killed 16,000 people, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, many of them children and civilians.

Newsgathering organizations around the world have struggled to cover this ongoing event, some of them noting the critique from readers in response to their coverage. Even some other news organizations are claiming bias of other organizations’ coverage. The issue is clearly polarizing for people all over the world, even causing tension among students on U.S. college campuses.

With violence in Darfur, historic floods in the Horn of Africa, and severe weather across the United States this year, it’s clear that news will keep happening and requiring compassionate, clear-headed coverage from reporters all over the globe.

Sending Our Support to Journalists As We Enter 2023

Some of the most important and compelling stories of 2023 have been the war between Russia and Ukraine, fentanyl drug overdoses in the United States, the legal troubles of former president Donald Trump, the possibilities of generative AI, and the Israel-Hamas war.

Without the ceaseless work of journalists who dig to uncover the truth, the public would otherwise be unaware of many abuses, atrocities, corruption, and issues affecting us all. Democratic societies should value the power of journalism and support its efforts in the years to come.

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