“This American Life” — the journalistic, non-fiction public radio program created in 1995 and hosted by Northwest Baltimore native Ira Glass — this week won the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting.
The award was for the episode “The Out Crowd,” which aired in November and was lauded by the Pulitzer board for “revelatory, intimate journalism that illuminates the personal impact of the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.”
The episode documented the stories of asylum seekers in a refugee camp in Mexico just across the border, as well as the U.S. asylum officers in charge of deportations. It was produced in partnership with the Los Angeles Times and Vice News.
“For years now, we’ve been doing serious reporting, including investigative stories,” Glass wrote in a post on the website of “This American Life.” “It’s gratifying to be recognized by the Pulitzers for that side of our work. … It’s an honor to be recognized this way by the Pulitzers. And exciting to win their very first prize for audio reporting.”
“This American Life” airs on more than 500 public radio stations across the United States. The hour-long show is heard by more than 2.2 million listeners, as well as another 2.5 million who download the show as a podcast.
In Baltimore, “This American Life,” which is produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media, airs on WYPR-88.1 FM.
A New York resident, Glass, 61, is a 1977 graduate of Milford Mill High School who as a youth attended Beth Israel Synagogue when that congregation was located in Randallstown. He is a second cousin of acclaimed composer Philip Glass.
In a 2018 interview with Jmore, Glass, who serves as the producer of “This American Life,” spoke about how Beth Israel’s late spiritual leader, Rabbi Seymour L. Essrog, profoundly influenced him as a storyteller.
“I never have found somebody who was as funny and thoughtful and emotional in their sermons as Rabbi Essrog,” he said. “I was always looking forward to his sermons and thinking that that would be a great job, to be out there once a week and talk for a while in front of people and tell some stories. Then, when I’d been in this job for a period of time, I thought, ‘Oh wait, in a different context I’ve created a version of that job for myself.'”
Glass told Jmore that the objective of “This American Life” is to create “narratives, stories with characters and plot. That’s a very specific kind of thing where you get to gauge people’s feelings in a very different way. So much of the news we get is a kind of shorthand, and especially in the last two or three years, the news has gotten so polarized. We do a lot of stories that say, ‘Here’s where these ideas came from, here’s how they’re playing out in people’s lives. Here’s what it would be like for you if you were this person.’ …
“I am constantly struck by how decent and smart and funny people I talk to are as I’m traveling around the country, and how well-meaning people are,” he said.
In a Facebook post, Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th) wrote, “A thousand congratulations to my friend and fellow Milford Mill High School alum, Ira Glass. Ira and his show ‘This American Life’ have won a Pulitzer! … Ira and his show’s investigative journalism have been terrific, and this award is very well-deserved.”