THE WORD "SURPRISED" doesn't fully convey Sandy Close's reaction recently when told she had won $315,000 as a recipient of one of the MacArthur Foundation fellowships.
"I had one foot over the cliff and now I find I can take another step," said the head of the perennially cash-strapped Pacific News Service (PNS) in San Francisco.
Close, who has headed the iconoclastic syndicate since 1974, can spend the so-called "genius award" anyway she likes, but plans to plow most of it back into PNS, she said.
The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation awards are unusual in that nominations can only be submitted by its anonymous, 100-member selection panel. Final determination is made by the foundation's directors to individuals who have made original contributions in one of a variety of fields. Normally, recipients have no idea they have been nominated.
Through Associated Press, PNS serves some 30 newspapers and 150 other publications with a wide range of essays and commentary from staffers and a large pool of freelance writers. The pieces cover national and international affairs, usually with a point of view not generally expressed by mainstream media writers.
One article this year was by a theologian offering a sympathetic analysis of Paul Hill, who shot an abortion doctor in Florida.
PNS' newspaper clients include the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Des Moines Register.
Close said she already has allocated some of the award money to hire a writer she has long wanted on the staff, and to pay bills. She also will pay back herself for money she borrowed on the mortgage of her home, done to keep PNS afloat, she disclosed.
"It's less my award than that it legitimizes those who have worked here year after year," she said. "They are as thrilled as I am. It surely is a collective award."
PNS was co-founded in 1970 by Close's husband, Franz Schell, a University of California, Berkeley, professor, who is currently one of its editors.
By: M.L. Stein Cash-strapped news service gets an unexpected windfall p.17