The Atlantic’s Ed Yong Wins 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting

First Pulitzer for The Atlantic awarded for Yong’s reporting on the coronavirus pandemic

An image from Ed Yong's pandemic coverage.
Credit: Joan Wong

The Atlantic staff writer Ed Yong has won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. He was awarded journalism’s top honor for his defining coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and how America failed in its response to the virus. This is The Atlantic’s first Pulitzer Prize.

Yong anticipated the course of the pandemic, clarified its dangers, and illuminated the American government’s disastrous failure to curb it. “Despite months of advance warning as the virus spread in other countries, when America was finally tested by COVID-19, it failed,” he wrote in March 2020. (That story, “How the Pandemic Will End,” is one of the most-read pieces in Atlantic history.)

“It was a singular honor to be able to help our readers make sense of a crisis that often defied sense,” Yong said. “I’m profoundly grateful to the team of phenomenal editors, fact-checkers, copy editors, and artists who improved my work; the sources who gave me their time in a year sorely lacking in it; and everyone at the Atlantic for creating an environment in which Pulitzer-winning work was possible. I’m sad these stories were ever necessary, but I’m proud to have written them and I hope they made a difference.”

“Through his writing, Ed has illuminated pathways of understanding for tens of millions of our readers; he has been a sentinel, a source of brilliant analysis, a beacon of moral clarity; and he has provided comfort when it was needed the most,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic.

The Pulitzer Board cited Yong “for a series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures, and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.”

Yong’s cover story for the September 2020 issue, “How the Pandemic Defeated America,” gave a full accounting of what went wrong, every weakness and every failure, leading to the painful conclusion that “almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable.” In 2018, Yong had himself predicted this devastating response, in the feature “The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?.”

For his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, he has also won the George Polk Award for science reporting; the Victor Cohn Prize for medical-science reporting; the Neil and Susan Sheehan Award for investigative journalism; the John P. McGovern Award from the American Medical Writers Association; and the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for in-depth reporting. Poynter named Yong the most important and impactful journalist of last year.

Yong has been a science journalist with The Atlantic since 2015. His first book, I Contain Multitudes, looks at the amazing partnerships between animals and microbes. His second book, An Immense World, is coming in summer 2022 and will look at the extraordinary sensory worlds of other animals.