Best Local Journalist

Tony Messenger

Staff Pick

When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch departed from its longtime home at 900 North Tucker Boulevard, the venerable paper left behind a wall-sized inscription authored by its founder Joseph Pulitzer: "Never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or by predatory poverty." The words are doubly fitting for the Post's metro columnist Tony Messenger, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for commentary by exposing how county courts across the state trap poor defendants in a tenacious cycle of debt and prison. From St. Francois to Laclede to Camden, Messenger found people who had already served out their sentences were being thrown in jail for not paying the "board bills" incurred by their previous jail stays. If they couldn't pay, they had to go back to court each month; if they missed court, they went back to jail, owing even more money. Messenger called this a system of "debtor's prisons." The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, issuing unanimous rulings this year that these rural courts were breaking the law. With his news-breaking skill, Messenger helped change Missouri for the better. It's not just what old Joseph Pulitzer would have wanted. It's the kind of public service journalism the world needs.

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