Copley’s Stern Says Pulitzer Shows What Regional Papers Can Do

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By: Dave Astor

Marcus Stern, who started the journalistic probe that helped bring down Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), sees several lessons in the investigation that just won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

Stern, 52, is a reporter and news editor in the Washington bureau of Copley News Service. CNS and the Copley-owned San Diego Union-Tribune shared the national-reporting Pulitzer with James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times.

Two of the lessons? “It shows that reporters for regional and mid-sized newspapers can play a huge role in keeping our lawmakers honest,” said Stern, when reached this afternoon in Washington. “It also shows that bureaus and newspapers can work closely together.”

Stern broke the Cunningham corruption story in the spring of 2005, and other CNS and Union-Tribune reporters subsequently joined the effort. “Then bloggers jumped in on this and did a very credible job, as did other news organizations,” said Stern.

Cunningham ended up resigning from office and going to jail for enriching himself via shady dealings with defense contractors. Stern said Cunningham’s downfall will hopefully result in a third lesson from the story: Lawmakers can’t necessarily get away with corruption.

“When he went to jail, I felt a little sadness for him,” said Stern. “But if anyone needed to be made an example of, this was the guy.”

CNS Vice President and Editor Glenda Winders said she and others at Copley are “incredibly excited” about the Pulitzer. “I believed this was a prize-winning story,” she told E&P. “It was very compelling, and brought such results.”

Winders noted that many journalists go into the profession “to rein in the bad guys and make the world a better place” — and the CNS/Union-Tribune investigation, she said, accomplished that.

The Copley executive added that Stern conducted his investigation “with no leaks,” relying instead on public records to unearth what Cunningham did.

As if his April is now not exciting enough for him, Stern will have a change in responsibilities at the end of the month. He’s voluntarily stepping down as news editor and concentrating on reporting at the CNS Washington bureau, which serves a number of other Copley papers in addition to the Union-Tribune.

Stern, who joined the bureau in 1983, noted that it’s hard to devote enough time to both jobs. “I won’t have to walk and chew gum at the same time anymore,” quipped Stern, whose daughter, brother, father, and grandfather also are or were journalists.

Speaking once more about the Pulitzer, Stern said: “I’m thrilled for Copley News Service and The San Diego Union-Tribune. This is not something that happens to us every day.”

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