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Pulitzer's Gold

Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism

Roy J. Harris, Jr.

Publication Year: 2010

No journalism awards are awaited with as much anticipation as the Pulitzer Prizes. Andamong those Pulitzers, none is more revered than the Joseph Pulitzer Gold Medal.
Pulitzer’s Gold is the first book to trace the ninety-year history of the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, awarded annually to a newspaper rather than to individuals, in the form of that Gold Medal. Exploring this service-journalism legacy, Roy Harris recalls dozens of “stories behind the stories,” often allowing the journalists involved to share their own accounts. Harris takes his Gold Medal saga through two world wars, the Great Depression, the civil rights struggle, and the Vietnam era before bringing public-service journalism into a twenty-first century that includes 9/11, a Catholic Church scandal, and corporate exposés. Pulitzer’s Gold offers a new way of looking at journalism history and practice and a new lens through which to view America’s own story.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-4

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

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1. The Storm before the Calm

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pp. 7-29

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....

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2. The Most Prized Pulitzer

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pp. 30-42

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...

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3. Spotlight on the Church

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pp. 43-56

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...

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4. A Newsroom Challenged

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pp. 57-71

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...

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5. Epiphany in Boston

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pp. 72-89

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...

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6. From Times to Times

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pp. 90-106

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

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7. First Gold

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pp. 109-120

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...

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8. Reporting on the Roaring

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pp. 121-145

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...

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9. From Depression to Wartime

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pp. 146-157

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...

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10. A Handful of Gold

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pp. 158-185

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...

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11. A New Stew of Issues

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pp. 186-202

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

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12. Secret Papers, Secret Reporting

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pp. 205-221

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...

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13. All the Editor's Men

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pp. 222-237

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...

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14. Two Types of Teaming

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pp. 238-257

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...

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15. Davids and Goliaths

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pp. 258-273

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...

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16. Mightier than the Snake

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pp. 274-287

"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...

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17. Pulitzer, Reform Thyself

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pp. 288-296

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

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18. Everybody's Business

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pp. 299-318

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—...

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19. The Nature of Things

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pp. 319-345

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...

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20. The Post Rings Twice

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pp. 346-362

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...

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21. Covering "De-Portland"

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pp. 363-374

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...

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pp. 375-382

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...


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pp. 383-424

Notes on Sources

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pp. 425-446


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pp. 447-450


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pp. 451-475

About the Author

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pp. 489-490

E-ISBN-13: 9780826266118
E-ISBN-10: 0826266118
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218919
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218911

Page Count: 488
Illustrations: 68 illus
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1