The Star Tribune has been honored with a prestigious George Polk Award for its coverage of the death of George Floyd and its aftermath.

The George Polk Awards, established in 1949 by Long Island University, are a major American journalism prize that honors the work of reporters who "uncover matters of critical importance to an informed public and the very foundation of democratic society." The awards are in honor of George Polk, a CBS correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the civil war in Greece.

According to the announcement Wednesday, the Star Tribune staff was honored with the Local Reporting award for work that spanned seven months beginning when George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.

"Our staff poured its heart and soul into covering this tragic story," said Rene Sanchez, Star Tribune editor. "We all wanted to do our best work for the community at such a painful time."

Star Tribune police reporter Libor Jany had finished working a holiday shift when he got word about a news conference regarding an in-custody police death. He soon learned there was more to the story than what police were reporting and doggedly pursued the details through the night.

A Facebook video posted by a 17-year-old bystander showed a police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man for nearly nine minutes as the man pleaded for his life. The story unfolded from there as Jany learned that Floyd was the man who died and Derek Chauvin was the officer who held him to the ground while three other officers were nearby.

Within hours, the full force of the newsroom pivoted to cover the emerging story that helped ignite a racial reckoning. Aggressive work by Star Tribune reporters and photojournalists combined with digital and print designers, copy editors and digital teams to bring readers in-depth coverage.

"I'm immensely proud of the work that we did as a newsroom in not only covering the breaking news side of this story but also producing enterprise pieces … that provided further context for our readers," Jany said.

The George Polk Awards jury commended the Star Tribune for Jany's "spot-on deadline work" and the newspaper's coverage that delved into the backgrounds of Floyd and the officers indicted in the case. The coverage, the jury noted, included articles that explored the "unsavory history of a precinct, destroyed by protesters, that was considered a breeding ground for renegade cops."

"The articles portrayed an ineffective police disciplinary process and reported on attempts to rethink the role of police and pick up the pieces in neighborhoods ravaged in the protests."

Earlier this year, the Star Tribune won an Online Journalism Award for breaking news stemming from its round-the-clock reporting of Floyd's death and the aftermath.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788