By: E&P Staff
In recent years, the annual list of Pulitzer Prize winners for journalism tended to be dominated by one or two newspapers, with The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times taking turns at the top with four or more winners. This year, it was spread-the-wealth time. The 14 winners in the journalism category went to 13 different news outlets, with The Wall Street Journal taking two. Finalists came from 28 news organizations.
Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said, “Despite the squeeze on newsroom budgets, the newspaper winners and finalists are heartening examples of high-quality journalism from all parts of the country. The watchdog function of journalism was underscored by this year’s winners and finalists.”
He added, however, that “the war in Iraq has not been as extensively covered in the entries as some might think. That may be due to some of the barriers to coverage there.” A team from the Los Angeles Times was a finalist for Iraq coverage this year but did not win.
Gissler also said that the number of newspaper entries this year, 1,225, was down from 1,324 last year. But, he noted, “Online played a significant role in about 15% to 20% of entries overall. It showed up most strongly in public service, breaking news, as well as explanatory and local reporting.” All three of the finalists in editorial cartooning submitted animation.
There were no notable controversies this year. One winner, from The Birmingham (Ala.) News, was moved out of the public service category as a finalist and shifted by the Pulitzer board to investigative, which it won. “The Birmingham entry was highly regarded by the public service jury, but the board felt that the best fit was in investigative,” said Gissler.
One thing never seems to change from year to year: Once again, E&P was able to compile a list of finalists ? based on leaks ? a month before they were announced with this year’s winners. The list proved to be accurate.
Here are a few snapshots of the winners, based on interviews by E&P reporters Dave Astor, Joe Strupp, Jennifer Saba, and Mark Fitzgerald.
Public Service and International
Naturally, soon-to-retire Managing Editor Paul Steiger was elated about the two honors for the Wall Street Journal. The win for public service is a first ever in that category for the Journal. The paper submitted 20 stories reported by James Bandler, Charles Forelle, Mark Maremont, and Steve Stecklow covering the back-dating options scandal that has plagued high-profile companies during the past year. “It wasn’t a planned series,” Steiger said. “It started as a single expos? last March and built from there.”
Seven Journal reporters ? James Areddy, Andrew Browne, Jason Dean, Gordon Fairclough, Mei Fong, Shai Oster, and Jane Spencer ? won the international reporting prize for their stories on China. The paper examined China’s growth from multiple angles, including the strain it has put on its people and the environment.
On besting other papers for top honors this year, including the New York Times, Steiger said, “These things go up and down. It’s great to have these two awards.”
Brett J. Blackledge says his win is a victory for general assignment reporters everywhere. Blackledge’s winning project, a series on nepotism and corruption in Alabama’s community college system, was the “bread-and-butter stuff” of everyday newspaper reporting.
“If you look at [the series], it’s basic daily stuff, and that’s the affirmation to me ? that this very regular basic work that so many of us do every day can be honored with an award like this,” said Blackledge. The newspaper originally entered the project in the local-reporting category. “Internally, I sort of argued against going into investigative reporting because you see so many great projects winning that category,” he said. Instead, the Public Service award went to the Wall Street Journal for its groundbreaking investigation into stock-option backdating. “I figured it had to be them in that category,” Blackledge added.
Blackledge’s investigation, which began back in April of 2005, included 50 stories ? and it isn’t over. In fact, now that the newspaper has assembled a huge database on Alabama community college contracts, personnel, accounts receivable, and payrolls, it’s likely to get even more interesting.
The series has made things hot for officials of the community colleges ? and for legislators. One of the revelations of the investigation was that the state House majority leader had contracts on two separate campuses. Since the series, the chancellor of the system was fired. Relatives of the chancellor and other college officials have lost their jobs. A federal investigation that, unknown to Blackledge, was looking into one college in the system before the newspaper’s revelations has now apparently broadened the scope of its probe.
The reporter’s investigation combined shoe-leather journalism and dozens of interviews with computer-assisted reporting. The News collected reams of data from campuses and “created a database that for the first time allowed us to look at every check, essentially, written” by the colleges, said Blackledge. By analyzing that data, he found patterns of corruption and favoritism.
Even with this project, though, Blackledge doesn’t think of himself as a classic investigative reporter. The Baton Rouge, La., native started in journalism with The Associated Press right after graduating with a journalism degree from Louisiana State University in 1986. He then manned various AP bureaus. After five years at the Mobile (Ala.) Register he joined the Birmingham News in 1998.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/ Universal Press Syndicate columnist told E&P that she included pieces about various topics in her Pulitzer portfolio, but what she wrote about most in 2006 were GOP efforts in Georgia and elsewhere to suppress the vote of people (often poor African-Americans) through such means as a push for paid IDs. People have likened that to the Jim Crow-era poll tax.
Tucker, who also serves as the Journal- Constitution’s editorial page editor, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2006 and 2004. When it comes to prize consideration, Tucker competes mostly against columnists who aren’t also full-time editors. Tucker said she’s so used to wearing two hats that she “can’t imagine what it would be like” to have the luxury of doing only a column. “But I’m committed to squeezing out the [column] reporting time on the issues that are important.”
Tucker began writing a column for the former Atlanta Journal in 1984, and became editorial page editor of the former Atlanta Constitution eight years later. Now she holds both positions at the combined AJC.
Mike Luckovich, who received the editorial cartooning Pulitzer in 2006, has worked with Tucker for about 15 years. “I’m thrilled Cynthia won,” the Journal-Constitution/ Creators Syndicate cartoonist told E&P. “She’s fearless in her column and lets me take strong stands.”
Luckovich noted that, in Atlanta, Tucker’s writing makes her “feared, hated, and loved, depending on who you talk to.” But he said people who know Tucker find her to be not only “courageous, but also a really nice person with a fabulous sense of humor.”
A 2005 crash course in Web animation helped Walt Handelsman win. “I submitted 10 still cartoons and 10 animations,” said the Newsday staffer in Melville, N.Y., adding that the judges mentioned the animation when they praised his 2006 portfolio of work. Handelsman started teaching himself how to animate his work in November 2005 and then had the first of his many animations posted on Newsday.com in February 2006. “I worked so hard on those things,” said the Tribune Media Services-syndicated cartoonist.
This year’s other cartoon finalists ? Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle and Washington Post Writers Group, and Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press and Copley News Service ? also do animation along with their print work.
This is the second Pulitzer for Handelsman, who previously received the prize in 1997 while at The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The artist included cartoons about various topics in his 2006 portfolio, with at least two animations and at least one still cartoon about the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping.
The Portland paper has been on a hot streak since 1999, with this latest nod its fifth Pulitzer since then. In its previous history, it had only won two. This time it had a total of three finalists ? a record for the paper.
This year’s win was for its coverage of a family’s disappearance in the southern Oregon woods and the desperate attempts by the father, James Kim, to save them. The paper fully utilized the Web, including use of video, audio, and interactive tools, so a huge number of staffers were involved in one way or another.
Kim’s wife and two children were saved after a nine-day ordeal, but he was found dead. The Oregonian discovered that the Bureau of Land Management had left open a gate on the road the Kims took into the snowy woods. The state made several key changes in rules and how it will handle searches in the future.
“Our thoughts today are with the Kim family, for, as our reporting showed, this is a tragic accident that might have been avoided,” said Executive Editor Peter Bhatia. “The work is honored for breaking news, which it was, but it also represents what newspaper journalism is all about: serving as a watchdog for the public on governmental institutions.”