Ian Urbina is the winner of the 19th annual Michael Kelly Award for his story “The Invisible Wall,” published by The New Yorker in partnership with the Outlaw Ocean Project in December 2021. Urbina’s investigation exposed the danger African migrants face on their way to European shores: A shadow immigration system captures migrants before they reach Europe, he reported, and sends them to Libyan detention centers run by militias.
In their commendation, the judges describe Urbina’s reporting as a “tour de force.” Urbina is a Pulitzer Prize– and George Polk Award–winning journalist. He is also the founder and director of the Outlaw Ocean Project. He will be awarded a prize of $25,000.
Given annually by The Atlantic, the Michael Kelly Award honors journalists whose work exemplifies the fearless pursuit and expression of truth, qualities that defined Michael Kelly’s own life and career. Kelly was the first journalist killed while covering the Iraq War, in 2003. He served as editor of The Atlantic and National Journal when both magazines were publications of Atlantic Media, chaired by David G. Bradley. Bradley created the award in his honor.
Journalists from three other news organizations were recognized as finalists, and each will receive a $3,000 award: Jessica Contrera, of The Washington Post, for unmasking the tragedies endured by victims of child sex trafficking across the United States; Leah Sottile, of High Country News, for documenting the deadly consequences of criminalizing homelessness; and Andrew Quilty, of Harper’s Magazine, for chronicling one Afghan family’s gradual rapprochement with the Taliban.
Five judges selected the winner and the finalists: Rania Abouzeid, an independent journalist and a previous Michael Kelly Award winner; James Warren, the executive editor of NewsGuard; Adam Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic; Ena Alvarado, a writer and a former assistant editor at The Atlantic; and Cullen Murphy, the editor at large of The Atlantic.
A list of the past winners and finalists, as well as remembrances of Kelly from friends and colleagues, can be found at michaelkellyaward.com. Entries for the 2023 Michael Kelly Award are due March 31, and directions and requirements for entries can be found at the site.