Pulitzer Board recognizes Alabama Reflector editor in commentary category • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Brian Lyman, in his welcome column, launched States Newsroom’s Alabama outlet with these words: “The pain and promise of Alabama collide on Dexter Avenue, the heart of Montgomery.”

The Alabama Reflector’s founding editor, he’d spent a lot of his 24-year journalism career as a reporter covering the state’s politics. And, he joked, he hadn’t penned a column since college. But he would start writing one every week.

His many years chasing hard news informs how he’s approached this work, which earned Lyman recognition by the Pulitzer Board in the commentary category “for brave, clear and pointed columns that challenge ever-more-repressive state policies flouting democratic norms and targeting vulnerable populations, written with the command and authority of a veteran political observer.”

Winners were announced Monday. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian writer imprisoned for standing against the war on Ukraine, won with columns published by The Washington Post.

Lyman’s writing often brings the lens of history to present-day issues unfolding in Alabama. “There are patterns in this state that just repeat over and over again,” he said in an interview. “You can change the characters. You can change the issues. You can change the settings.” But a key theme, he said, is that Alabama government tends to serve the powerful over the vulnerable.

“If you’ve seen this show before, you can sense where things are headed,” Lyman said. The role of his commentaries in the broader news picture he’s got his eye on every day is to provide context and background for readers who are trying to grasp what’s going on. “For people who might feel like they might be lost with what the latest Alabama crisis is … hopefully people read my columns and maybe have a clearer understanding of what’s been happening.”

His analysis is usually based on the work of the Reflector’s reporters, who find the stories that Lyman contextualizes. One column recognized by the Pulitzer Board, “The high price of Alabama’s low taxes,” couldn’t have happened without reporting by Ralph Chapoco, who spent months analyzing the fines and fees system in Alabama. Another, “Why GOP lawmakers fear ‘divisive concepts,’” jumped off diligent coverage by Jemma Stephenson and Alander Rocha. “You can’t really write about these things without having a really hard-working and perceptive staff working with you,” Lyman said.

His commentaries have done more than serve as a guide to the news reporting of the Reflector team, though, too. They’ve also helped change how some historical tales are told.

One of his first columns last year was about Arthur Madison, a civil rights hero who in the ’40s organized a registration drive that helped get hundreds of Black voters on the rolls. Afterward, Madison was targeted, arrested and disbarred. Lyman spotlighted this story to argue that the historical record should be corrected. A few months later, Madison was inducted into the Alabama State Bar Hall of Fame.

“Alabama is rich in examples of what happens when you give the powerful too much power, and you don’t restrain them,” Lyman said. “The flip coin of that though, is that we also have many examples of Alabamians who refuse to accept that, who constantly fought for something better.”

The state he writes about every week, Lyman said, is where America confronts itself. “Alabama is where we see the very worst and the very best of the American character.”

The nod to Lyman marks the first time States Newsroom — the national nonprofit news network that the Alabama Reflector belongs to — has had a Pulitzer finalist. “We are proud and honored that the Pulitzer Prize Board recognizes Brian’s unflinching and insightful analysis of this pivotal movement in our history as it is playing out in Alabama,” said Chris Fitzsimon, president and publisher. “It’s why States Newsroom was founded, to tell the stories of people affected by the decisions made in Montgomery and other statehouses across the country.”

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: [email protected]. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Originally published at penncapital-star.com,by Marisa Demarco

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