The Star’s Melinda Henneberger earned one of journalism’s most prestigious honors Monday when she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Henneberger, a member of the Star’s editorial board since January 2017, was recognized for a collection of columns.
The judges said Henneberger revealed, “in spare and courageous writing, institutional sexism and misogyny within her hometown NFL team, her former governor’s office and the Catholic Church.”
Henneberger’s columns exposed injustices and stood up for victims. They included several on former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and the affair that led to his rapid downfall.
Another column, on a woman killed by her estranged, abusive husband, helped spur a new initiative by the Jackson County prosecutor to prevent domestic violence-related homicides.
She also wrote about personal topics that resonated with both judges and readers. In one, she wrote about why she didn’t report her own rape years ago as many questioned the motives of Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.
In another, she wrote about what finally led her to leave the Catholic Church.
“... after a lifetime of stubborn adherence on my part and criminal behavior on yours, your excellencies, you seem to have finally succeeded in driving me away,” she wrote in November. “I’m not even sure there’s such a thing as a former Catholic, but I’m about to find out.”
In her two years at The Star, Henneberger has made a difference in the Kansas City community, said Colleen McCain Nelson, vice president and editorial page editor at The Star.
“Whether she is taking on a governor accused of sexual misconduct or is writing about a Chiefs player who allegedly shoved and kicked a woman, Melinda has been a powerful voice for women and an advocate for justice,” Nelson said. “Melinda combined dogged reporting with insightful commentary in columns that were both brave and beautifully written.”
Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch won the commentary award for a series of columns that “exposed the malfeasance and injustice of forcing poor rural Missourians charged with misdemeanor crimes to pay unaffordable fines or be sent to jail.” Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic was the other finalist.
In a column on Greitens, Henneberger wrote that if what the governor’s hairdresser said about being coerced was true, then he should have been impeached. Even if he wasn’t charged with a crime.
Earlier this month, Henneberger won the national Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing in the 2019 News Leaders Association Awards. The award, announced April 2, recognizes excellence in writing that expresses a personal point of view.
In 2018, Henneberger won the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award for opinion writing for “a portfolio of work that is a revealing look at the people and political issues driving conversations in the heartland.”
Before joining The Star, Henneberger was a columnist at USA Today and served as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic studies at the Catholic University of America, which is in Washington, D.C. As a reporter and editor, Henneberger has worked for Roll Call, Bloomberg Politics, the Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post and The New York Times, where she served as a Washington correspondent and bureau chief in Rome.
This is the second year in a row that The Star has been among the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Last year, the government transparency series, “Why so secret, Kansas?” was named a finalist for the Pulitzer’s top prize, Public Service.
The series was surpassed only by The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine, which shared the Pulitzer gold for their combined body of work on Miramax film producer Harvey Weinstein and workplace sexual harassment that ignited the #MeToo movement.
“It’s a special honor to be recognized again this year, and I’m thrilled for Melinda and the entire editorial team,” said Mike Fannin, editor/vice president of The Star. “I’m also deeply proud of the consistently excellent journalism produced by this newsroom.”