Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Missouri Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Declining readership, daunting Internet challenges, and flagging profitability get most of the blame for what ails today’s American newspaper business. Some lovers of the print medium, though, see another affliction within the fifteen hundred dailies that survived the last century’s industry consolidation. These readers...
Part One - Gold for a New Century
1. The Storm before the Calm
Tugust was fading fast along the Gulf coast, but the 2005 hurricane season was at its peak. Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss had taken to watching storms like Tropical Depression Number 12 with equal parts awe and anticipation. His New Orleans newspaper was prepared for the worst. Or so he thought....
2. The Most Prized Pulitzer
The New York Times’s Pentagon Papers coverage and the Washington Post’s Watergate reporting, honored in 1972 and 1973, respectively, rise like twin peaks above the majestic range of newspaper enterprises that won Public Service Pulitzer Prizes through the last half of the twentieth century. Exactly thirty years later, at the beginning of a new century, two more summits stand out: the Times’s response to...
3. Spotlight on the Church
Every new editor likes to make a splash the first day on the job. But Martin Baron’s inaugural Monday morning story meeting at the Boston Globe on July 30, 2001, would hit with all the force of one of those rare summer hurricanes that sweeps up the Atlantic Coast to hammer New England...
4. A Newsroom Challenged
Before work one morning, Gerald Boyd was relaxing in the barber chair.
Then the world changed.
The haircut was in preparation for a special dinner party that night. Just five days into his new job as managing editor of the New York Times, Boyd would be joining new editorial page editor Gail Collins and executive editor Howell Raines...
5. Epiphany in Boston
By the end of October 2001, work on the Catholic Church story—shelved
while Boston Globe Spotlight Team members threw themselves into projects stemming
from the September 11 terrorist attacks—could wait no longer.
Team leader Walter Robinson was burning to follow up on the meeting he had had with two secret sources less than a week before 9/11. The session had yielded...
6. From Times to Times
As the Pulitzer Prize selection process began in 2004, another New England paper seemed hotly competitive for the Gold Medal. While there was none of that same unanimity about whether a Pulitzer would recognize the Providence Journal’s coverage of the Station nightclub fire in nearby West Warwick, Rhode Island...
Part Two - Coming of Age
7. First Gold
With the Pulitzer Prizes today signifying the pinnacle of excellence in both journalism and the arts, it is hard to imagine Columbia University’s new awards struggling to get off the ground. Yet, unheralded and overshadowed by world war, the selection of the first winners was barely noticed in 1917. Two months earlier...
8. Reporting on the Roaring
The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism entered the new decade like a child prodigy in that period of early, awkward adolescence. As an institution it had its brilliant moments—certainly, one was the choice of the New York Times for the 1918 Gold Medal—but it was still quite immature...
9. From Depression to Wartime
Almost on cue in October of 1929, the bubble burst for the Roaring Twenties. Still, it took Americans a while to shake the notion that Charles Ponzi might have been right—that maybe everybody could get rich quick, magically and without effort. In the 1930s, the Great Depression and its constant companions, graft...
10. A Handful of Gold
How would one go about identifying the finest local newspaper staff ever assembled? Since newsrooms do not have the “all-century-team” distinctions that are so popular in the sports world, Pulitzer Prizes leap to mind as one suitable metric for the task...
11. A New Stew of Issues
As the Pulitzer board searched for its Public Service medalist each year, the goal was to find the very best story—not to go out of its way to achieve a broad mix of winning news organizations. Had variety been the aim, of course, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likely wouldn’t have been a five-time recipient in so short a...
Part Three - The Golden Seventies
12. Secret Papers, Secret Reporting
When the Pulitzer Prizes celebrated their fiftieth year in 1966, only thirty-three newspapers—a diverse collection of large and small journals from across the country—could boast having a Pulitzer Gold Medal. A mere handful owned more than one. The New York Times had two, one short of the number earned by the...
13. All the Editor's Men
Bob Woodward had not seen the movie All the President’s Men for twenty-five
years. Then one day in mid-2005 he sat down with his eight-year-old daughter
Diana while she watched it for the first time.
Noticing her squirming a bit, the Washington Post assistant managing editor asked what she was thinking. “The guy pretending to be you doesn’t look like you...
14. Two Types of Teaming
Newsday and the Philadelphia Inquirer, winners of three of the Public Service
Pulitzers awarded in the 1970s, had to break through debilitating handicaps on
their way to becoming national models of project journalism.
Truth be told, it was a seriously flawed Newsday that won the 1954 Pulitzer Gold Medal. The paper had been responsible for the significant public service of “dethroning...
15. Davids and Goliaths
Who doesn’t love the story of the pathetic ninety-pound weakling thumping the muscle-bound bully; of the overmatched Rocky Balboa humbling the hulking Russian Ivan Drago, or the scrawny David felling the mighty Goliath with his meager stone? Journalists certainly do. After all, they all grew up in a profession where...
16. Mightier than the Snake
"Today is the first day of the rest of your life” hardly seems a sentiment to strike terror in the heart. Coined by Synanon founder Charles Dederich, the aphorism expressed the healing, New Age image he wanted for his commune of rehabilitated drug addicts. Behind its guarded gates in California’s bucolic west Marin County...
17. Pulitzer, Reform Thyself
After the St. Louis Post-Dispatch won its fifth Gold Medal in 1952, for its exposé of federal tax system abuses, the storied paper’s news operation entered a long Pulitzer Prize dry spell. (Over the next fifty-five years, staffers would win five, but for Editorial Cartooning, Editorial Writing, Criticism, and Commentary, with its...
Part Four - Challenges for a New Era
18. Everybody's Business
Business and technology were on the mind of every reporter and editor in the 1980s, if only because computers were taking over their newsrooms. The machines on their desks started carrying names like IBM or Apple rather than Remington, Royal, or Underwood. The once-incessant clacking of typewriter keys—...
19. The Nature of Things
Stories dealing with environmental issues and the natural sciences—or, in two cases, nature’s fury—dominated Public Service Prize–winners in the 1990s. Still, the business story was here to stay, and much of the coverage that was honored continued to have a corporate flavor. For one thing, reporters examined more...
20. The Post Rings Twice
Imagine attending this story meeting held by Washington Post editors and reporters in the fall of 1998: Jeffrey M. Leen notes his investigative team’s probe of the high toll of shootings by District of Columbia police, a dark footnote in the city that had become the murder capital of the nation. Taking turns going around...
21. Covering "De-Portland"
The Oregonian had gone through a dispiriting time in 1992, having seriously botched its coverage of one of Oregon’s most influential citizens, Senator Bob Packwood. In November, the Washington Post had broken a story on Packwood’s history of sexually harassing women, calling attention to the Portland paper’s failure...
As the Pulitzer Prizes turned ninety in 2007, the American newspaper’s financial condition was sinking to new depths. Print readership had fallen precipitously, with younger generations looking elsewhere—or nowhere—for their news. Advertisers joined the exodus. Publishers were stumped over how to profit...
Notes on Sources
About the Author
Page Count: 488
Illustrations: 68 illus
Publication Year: 2010
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pulitzer's Gold