LOS ALTOS, Calif. – Two freelance journalists have won the first American Mosaic Journalism Prize for stories about the struggles of U.S. immigrants and others that the prize founders say have been underrepresented or misrepresented, it was announced Tuesday.
Jaeah Lee of San Francisco and Valeria Fernandez of Arizona will each receive $100,000, making it one of the richest prizes for journalism. By comparison, Pulitzer Prize winners generally receive $15,000.
The prize was created by the Heising-Simons Foundation, a family-run charity in Silicon Valley.
The award was for a selection of work by independent reporters that appeared in print, digital, audio or TV mass media between July 2016 and August 2017.
"In today's journalism, freelancers are both vulnerable and valuable," said a statement announcing the awards. "With trimming of newsroom staff, many journalists are working without the support of an institution and with limited resources. And yet, some of the most important works of journalism come from these freelance journalists who commit long periods of time to their stories."
Lee, for example, spent 17 months with a mother whose son was killed in a police shooting, the announcement said.
Her writing "gives readers a keen sense of the voices and concerns of those easily forgotten or neglected in the news," the prize judges said.
Lee said being a freelancer is "a rocky road of financial burden, tests on patience and endurance and focus" without support from an institution.
The new prize is "a game-changer in offering writers like myself a chance at financial security, and in allowing us to focus on the stories that matter most," she said in a statement.
Fernandez has covered immigration issues in Arizona for more than 15 years. Her recent work included a story about the mental health struggles of a new immigrant. She also produced the 2012 documentary "Two Americans," about a 9-year-old girl whose parents were arrested in a workplace immigration raid.
"Bearing witness to lives that are often absent from public view, Valeria Fernández's work stands as testament to the trust people have in her to tell their stories with accuracy and compassion," the judges wrote.
"As a Latina immigrant journalist, who speaks Spanish as a first language, I'm humbled to receive this recognition," Fernandez said in a statement. "I hope it will bring attention to the voices of the women and the communities that I have focused my reporting on."
The 10 judges include journalism professors and working journalists.
The prize was awarded for excellence in long-form, narrative, or deep reporting on stories about "underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the present American landscape," according to the press statement.
The Heising-Simons Foundation was founded by Mark Heising, a computer chip designer who holds several U.S. patents, and Liz Simons, a Spanish-bilingual teacher who founded an early childhood education program, according to the foundation website.
Both have signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will, according to a pledge website. Other signatories include Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
This story has been corrected to include the dropped first name of Liz Simons in the penultimate paragraph.