‘The Oregonian’ Story That Won a Pulitzer Today

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By: E&P Staff

Here’s how The Oregonian in Portland described its Pulitzer win today, just minutes after it happened.

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The Oregonian staff today won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for its coverage of a family’s disappearance in the southern Oregon woods and their father’s desperate attempt to save them.

Journalism’s top honor recognizes the newsroom’s print and online reporting on the ordeal of James Kim’s family, which exposed extensive problems with the search.

The Pulitzer is the seventh for The Oregonian and the fifth since 1999.

The newspaper also had finalists for Pulitzers in two other categories, the first time it had three finalists in one year. The Oregonian’s series of stories on shortcomings of job programs that are failing to serve the disabled in the workplace was a finalist in the national reporting category. The work of reporter Inara Verzemnieks was a finalist in the featuring writing category.

The extensive Kim coverage chronicled both online and in print how James Kim and his family took a wrong turn off Interstate 5 in late November and got stuck in the snow in the Siskiyou Mountains. The search for the Bay Area family, which had been traveling to visit friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, transfixed the nation.

Kim’s wife and two children were spotted by a helicopter pilot after a nine-day ordeal. Kim was later found dead of hypothermia in a creek bed.

After Kim’s body was found, The Oregonian discovered that the Bureau of Land Management had left open a gate on the road the Kims took into the snowy woods. It also exposed several missteps in the search.

The reporting helped prompt the governor to ask three state agencies to review the search. He also appointed a task force to improve the state’s search-and- rescue efforts. The state sheriffs association also decided to conduct its own investigation.

“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.”

The reporting involved much of the newsroom staff, with reporters and photographers working in southern Oregon, as well as dozens of reporters, editors, copy editors and graphic artists publishing and producing in Portland. The effort also was one of the first major stories involving the frequent posting of news to the newsroom’s affiliated Web site, OregonLive.com, plus the use of new tools featuring video, audio and interactive graphics.

Quinton Smith was the newsroom’s coodinating editor who oversaw much of the coverage. “This was a tragic yet compelling story. It had continual twists, turns and changes, from the initial breaking news to the search itself to profiles and, eventually, investigation of how the search was conducted. In the newsroom it was a monthlong relay race by staffers,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the Kim family; we hope our final investigative stories help change the ways some multi-jurisdictional searches are conducted.”

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