How does it feel to win a Pulitzer Prize?

Between tears of joy, Maria Hinojosa told NPR, “It’s like a dream and when I stop crying, it’s like, Wow!”

On Monday, Hinojosa and his team of producers and writers at Futuro Media won the Pulitzer Prize in Audio Recording for a seven-part podcast series titled Sweet. The show is about a man who reenters society after serving more than 30 years in prison. It was a project that had been in the works for decades.

Now, says Hinojosa, to be recognized by “the highest levels of quote-unquote American journalism is like a tectonic shift has just happened.” After so many years of reporting on criminal justice, Hinojosa says it’s a signal that journalism with a capital J is interested in a radical story about a man behind bars with great hope – David Luis” Suave “Gonzalez – and a reporter with a heart.”

Hinojosa, who spoke with NPR from her home in Harlem with a yelping dog in the background, is a veteran television and radio reporter. She was previously a correspondent for NPR and was the show’s longtime host Latin United States She launched Futuro Media in 2010; the company is a non-profit media content company, and its foray into the non-fiction narrative podcasting space is the ultimate validation, she said.

She notes that she is the first Latina to win the coveted award since its inception in 2020.

The history of stories on Suave

Hinojosa first met Suave, the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show, in 1993 while speaking at Graterford State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. She was a correspondent for NPR at the time and he was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 17. Eventually, Suave became a source — someone she checked on several times a year — as she began to tell stories about the growing population of mostly men behind bars. But inevitably, she says, it soon became a friendship.

She sent him Christmas cards, shared stories about her life and collected decades of recordings of their visits and conversations. “We had no idea what I was going to do with it,” she admits. But she’s committed to keeping a record.

There was no way of knowing, when they first met, that there would ever be an opportunity for Suave’s release.

“He was supposed to come out in a box,” she says. Things changed in 2012 when the Supreme Court began to reconsider the practice of sentencing minors to life without parole, she said.

“And that’s when my deep sense of journalism was like, OK, wait a second, he might come out. Then it was like, you have to tape every conversation.”

Hinojosa has a tip for journalists: don’t be afraid to put your heart into it

If that’s not a lesson for journalists to follow their instincts, she doesn’t know what is, she joked.

His advice for fellow reporters is, “Trust your instincts to know what a story is. But also be prepared to put your heart into it.”

She adds, “I encourage putting your heart into the reporting,” quickly noting the importance of remaining respectful with interviewees.

In fact, Hinojosa herself and her unique connection to Suave are integral to the story. (As the first episode opens, Hinojosa cries with Suave, as he suffers from PTSD from being confined to a tiny recording studio that reminds him of his old cell.) That’s a significant departure from to the type of journalism and storytelling that is often rewarded or even encouraged in the industry.

“And that’s why a Pulitzer is like, Wow!” she laughs.

“You all recognize a deep commitment to this story, but also a deep heart commitment to the context of American journalism in 2022. I will consider this a victory for all that I (and) Futuro Media represent. . I’ll take it as a win, that’s for sure.”

She was so tied to Suave’s story that her producers—Maggie Freleng, who also hosts the show, and Julieta Martinelli—limited Hinojosa’s role on the show.

“They came to me and they were like, ‘Listen, Maria, you’re part of the story, so you can’t produce it. And I was like, ‘What?’

It was a bit of a shock at first, but by the end of the day, she was okay with her producers.

“I was trained to trust my producers and I trust them 100%,” Hinojosa said, once again on the verge of tears.

Without them, says Hinojosa, she would never have been able to complete such an ambitious project.

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