Brookside Town Hall, Alabama, Photographer Anna Williams

Small Town Shakedown

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In this first episode of the “Pulitzer on the Road” podcast, we head to Brookside, Alabama, where 2023 Local Reporting winners John Archibald and Ashley Remkus revisit their award-winning reporting about police corruption in this small municipality. They’re joined by incumbent Pulitzer Board Co-Chair Neil Brown of The Poynter Institute.

In Brookside (population 1,253), a town just north of Montgomery, the team meets with local residents (both on the street and at a town hall) to talk about their experiences of being pulled over by local police and being fined hundreds and thousands of dollars, ordeals that culminated in many losing their cars. Archibald points out that “49% of the budget of this town was funded” by this police activity, resulting in a 640% increase in the town’s income from fines and fees over a two-year period.

AL.com’s local investigative reporting uncovered what was happening. Their series ultimately exposed how the police force in Brookside preyed on residents to inflate revenue, coverage that prompted the resignation of the police chief, four new laws, and a state audit.

You can read the AL.com team’s winning portfolio here.

Learn more about our guests in this episode:

John Archibald is a two-time Pulitzer winner, a columnist at AL.com, and an award-winning podcaster. In 2021, he wrote and co-hosted the national Murrow Award-winning podcast “Unjustifiable,” the story of a Black woman killed by Birmingham police in 1979. He is the author of “Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution,” one of NPR’s favorite books of 2021. Archibald won the Pulitzer for Commentary in 2018 and was lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize winner for Local Reporting in 2023, which examined out-of-control policing in the tiny Alabama town of Brookside. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2020-2021, and the inaugural Writer in Residence at Boston University in 2023.

Ashley Remkus is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the Local Investigative Editor for AL.com. She previously worked as an investigative reporter, covering the justice system and policing with a focus on accountability and public access. She joined AL.com in 2016 as a public safety beat reporter. In 2023, she earned the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for the investigative series that exposed predatory policing in the town of Brookside. In 2021, she was part of the AL.com team that won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and the Katharine Graham Award for Courage and Accountability, among other honors. Remkus also was part of a team nominated for a national Emmy® award in 2021 for contributions to the PBS NewsHour series “Searching for Justice.” Her work has been recognized by the George Polk Awards, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the National Headliner Awards, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Online News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Alabama Press Association.

Neil Brown is the president of The Poynter Institute. He joined Poynter in September 2017 after serving as the editor and vice president of the “Tampa Bay Times.” During Brown’s tenure leading the Times news staff, the paper won more national and state awards than at any time in its history, including six Pulitzer Prizes. He also launched PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking website that has been replicated nationally and inspired similar efforts worldwide. A native of Chicago, Illinois, Brown is a graduate of the University of Iowa, Phi Beta Kappa, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism. He began his newspaper career as a reporter and editor at “The Miami Herald,” covering government and politics in Miami and working in bureaus in Key West, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.

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