The Pulitzer Prizes are the most prestigious awards in American journalism. And because of the nature of the craft, they also can stand as an unofficial catalog of the catastrophes, coups, military atrocities, corporate malfeasance and the crushing inhumanity of our times.

This year alone, the Pulitzer juries awarded prizes for the coverage of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex outside Miami; a highly toxic battery recycling plant, also in Florida; a national review of fatal traffic stops by police, and — no surprise — the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Reporters and editors celebrate when they win. For journalists, a Pulitzer is a crowning professional achievement. Yet for many, grief can taint the celebration: Their best work arose from the worst moments of someone else’s life.

I got a small taste of that complex response this week when the Chicago Tribune and the organization I lead, the Better Government Association, received a Pulitzer for our joint report about the deadly cost of the city of Chicago’s failures to enforce fire safety. The Tribune’s Cecilia Reyes and the BGA’s Madison Hopkins earned their Pulitzers for meticulous and compassionate reporting that exposed how at least 61 people died in 42 fires in buildings where the city had knowledge of dangerous conditions but failed to act. The series was called “The Failures Before the Fires.”

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David Greising

David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative...