© 2023 Innovation Trail

Meet the father-son journalists from Alabama who won a Pulitzer and changed laws

Ramsey Archibald (left) and his father, John Archibald.
Joe Songer
/
AL.com via AP
Ramsey Archibald (left) and his father, John Archibald.

How do you factor in journalistic prowess in a Punnett square?

Who are they? Pulitzer prize winners and family. John Archibald and his son, Ramsey Archibald, work for Al.com in Alabama.

  • John jokes that his home state is a great place to do news. "You can throw a rock and hit a scandal at any given moment in time."
  • And this rock hit plenty. The duo was part of a team - that included Ashley Remkus and Challen Stephens of Al.com - which published a series exposing how police in the town of Brookside preyed on residents to boost its revenue.
  • They won the Pulitzer for local reporting. This is the second Pulitzer for John, Remkus, and Stephens, and the first for Ramsey.
  • If you can believe it, John initially expressed hesitation over his son joining his profession, due to a lack of jobs and stability. "At the same time, I'm out giving speeches to people saying we desperately need young, smart, creative, thoughtful, honest young people to carry us through journalism until we figure this stuff out. So how in the world could I not want somebody I know who has all of those things to go into the business?"
  • The Pulitzer-winning team (from left) Ramsey Archibald, John Archibald, Ashley Remkus and Challen Stephens.
    / Ramsey Archibald
    /
    Ramsey Archibald
    The Pulitzer-winning team (from left) Ramsey Archibald, John Archibald, Ashley Remkus and Challen Stephens.


    Want more profile journalism? Listen to the Consider This episode on the Texas lawyer behind the so-called "bounty hunter" abortion ban.


    What's the big deal? Aside from winning one of the highest honors in the industry, the investigative work the Archibalds contributed to led to big changes.

  • They found that Brookside, Al had very little crime reported to the state, yet used fines and fees to bring in half its revenue.
  • John said people in the town of just over 1,200 people were being pulled over for minor infractions like following too closely while driving, or using paper tags while driving a recently purchased car. And when they were stopped they would "end up with seven or eight or nine or 10 charges against them, misdemeanors that would cost them thousands and thousands of dollars."
  • This reporting ultimately led to the resignation of the police chief, four new laws, and a state audit. It also led to some people being freed from jail.
  • What are they saying?

    On winning a Pulitzer alongside a family member:

    John: It's the most amazing thing I've ever felt. But, you know, sitting here today, and to do that with my kid is the greatest thing I've ever done in my career.

    Ramsey: It's really difficult to put into words, honestly, but it's really just a pleasure and an honor to work with this team. And to do it with my dad is unbelievable. But to do it with the journalist that my dad is - you know, take our relationship out of it - I'm pretty lucky to do that also.

    On how their work has impacted their community:

    John: I've done a lot of stuff over the years that cost people jobs, that cost politicians their careers or that, you know, sent people to jail. And that's one kind of feeling. And it's really important in journalism. But in this situation, I mean, there were people over and over coming to me and saying, you know, I got my life back. And in 37 years of doing this job, I've never experienced anything like that. And it gives me a whole new perspective on why we do this job.

    Ramsey: I mean, that's the reason you get into this field. And it's so great to get this kind of recognition and for people to pay attention beyond Alabama. But it would have been worth it without any of this just to have those people, like you said, come say, I got my life back from this. I think that's all you can ask for.

    The father-son duo in action.
    / Ramsey Archibald
    /
    Ramsey Archibald
    The father-son duo in action.

    So, what now?

  • The reporting has also received recognition from The National Headliner Awards, the George Polk awards, and the Hillman prize for web journalism, among others.
  • And the Brookside investigation was part of a larger series, Banking on Crime that delved into the practice of for-profit policing in Alabama.
  • Learn more:

  • Florida rejects some social studies textbooks and pushes publishers to change others
  • Maternity homes provide support in a post-Roe world, but not without conditions
  • Florida lawmakers want to use radioactive material to pave roads
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tags
    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.