By: MARK FITZGERALD
Pulitzer Prize-winning articles never reach an audience wider than the victorious paper’s readers, Max Frankel laments in his New York Times Magazine column Memorial Day weekend.
“The Pulitzer Paradox,” he calls it. Other newspapers may report who won and give a very brief description of why, but they do not republish the work itself, Frankel notes.
One newspaper, however, is making a practice of printing great writing from other papers and is finding readers love it. Just this month, it reprinted two Pulitzer Prize winners: The Washington Post’s investigation into reckless gunplay by District of Columbia police and The Miami Herald’s expos? of voter fraud in the city’s mayoral election.
For more than a year, The Kansas City (Mo.) Star has been searching newspapers all around the country for well-written articles it reprints under the heading, “Writer’s Showcase.” The Star gives the stories plenty of room. The “Showcase” kicked off with the 30-part “Black Hawk Down” series bywriter Mark Bowden of The Philadelphia Inquirer about an incident during the U.S. military operation in Somalia. It’s not unusual for a story to run to 200 inches, Star editor Mark Zieman says.
Topics cover a wide range, from The Wall Street Journal’s recent account of a Northwest Airlines plane stuck on a Detroit runway for hours during a blizzard last winter to a story about 19th-century President Grover Cleveland that was surprisingly popular. The “Showcase” pieces run in both feature and news sections and appear about once a month.
“Readers really, really respond to them,” says Miriam Pepper, reader representative at the Star. “It’s pretty unusual for a
reader to be so moved by a story they want to call up the paper and tell somebody about it, and yet every time we run a ‘Writer’sShowcase’ they do.”
Editor Zieman says the idea grew out of his frustration at not finding enough well-written stories on the wires ? stories he knew were appearing in paper after paper.
“We only look in newspapers,” Zieman says. “We’re doing our little bit for the war by emphasizing how newspapers are the source for great writing, great reporting, and great investigations you can’t get anywhere else.”
When Zieman and writing coach Bill Luening embarked on the project in the spring of 1998, they imagined creating a kind of clearinghouse where newspapers could share their best-written stories.
“Nobody wanted to have anything to do with it,” Zieman says. “I get on the [writing] coaches’ Internet list and beg people to alert me to good stories they are running. And, of course, nobody does,” Luening adds.
When an out-of-town paper does have a story printed in the Star, however, it is always pleased, Zieman says.
“Suddenly, your Web site is getting more hits from people from Kansas City. You’re just adding readers,” he says.
Zieman notes that republishing other papers’ stories was not only a common practice 100 years ago, but many publishers believed it was crucial to producing a good paper.
“Back then, it was seen as so important, and now you’re loath to run stories from another paper. I just don’t understand that,” Zieman says. “It’s a no-lose deal for everybody, and yet newspapers just aren’t bent that way.”
Readers are, the Star has learned. “It doesn’t matter to them if there’s no Kansas City dateline on the story,” Zieman says.
“People respond to stories,” Luening says. “They respond to stories that have some connection to their real life, wherever they come from.”
The success of the “Showcase” stories should prompt some rethinking among newspapers, reader representative Pepper says.
“These stories tend to be long, in-depth, and well-written pieces, and readers love them,” Pepper says, “which is a nice change given what people in journalistic circles say people want.”