Champagne and Cheers at Oregon's 'Willamette Week' After Pulitzer Win

By: Graham Webster Nigel Jaquiss got official word he'd won a Pulitzer Prize when he got a phone call from Western Union with a telegram from Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University.

"I didn't know Western Union still existed," Jaquiss joked to E&P.

The Willamette Week reporter was left in suspense for more than 10 minutes after the prizewinners were announced in New York, where Jaquiss and the Week were awarded the investigative-reporting prize for his expose of a former Oregon governor's long-hidden sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl. The congratulatory phone calls immediately started flowing in, but, Jaquiss realized, "there would be nothing worse than accepting congratulations only to find out you hadn't won."

He knew there was a chance. When E&P and others published an unofficial, leaked list of finalists for this year's awards, Jaquiss said, he was shocked to be on the list. But by this morning, he was hearing more and more rumors. "This morning I heard from a friend at The New York Times that we might have won," Jaquiss said. Then he heard the same from someone at another well-connected friend.

Finally, when the results were to be announced, at noon Oregon time, Jaquiss and his editor were waiting at their desks for phone calls. And they waited.

"When the Western Union called, my editor asked them to hold," Jaquiss said. Everyone in the building, including part of Jaquiss' family, gathered in the office. "He said, 'OK, what do you have for us?'"

Jaquiss won, making today was only the fifth time an alternative newsweekly beat out well-established dailies to win a Pulitzer Prize.

The atmosphere at the Willamette (Ore.) Week was "pretty celebratory to say the least," managing news editor Hank Stern told E&P Monday afternoon, soon after the Portland-area alt-weekly learned it had won this year's investigative-reporting prize. "Champagne, a lot of cheering, air horn -- pretty happy."

Jaquiss' reporting on former governor Neil Goldschmidt won over finalists from The Des Moines (Iowa) Register and The New York Times.

"It's pretty groundbreaking, but it shows that good work can be done," Stern said. "With hard work you can get a great story, and Nigel, with a lot of help from other folks around here, really did that."

Everyone at the Week, which has four news reporters on its 13-person editorial staff, shared Jaquiss' glory Monday.

"It's a small enough paper that everybody legitimately feels like they had a hand in it," Stern said.

Jaquiss' award was the fifth Pulitzer won by an alt-weekly, according to Roxanne Cooper, director of sales and marketing at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

"A lot of alternative newsweeklies are out there breaking stories every week," Cooper told E&P, citing major developments in scandals at the U.S. Air Force Academy which were revealed last year by Westword, a Denver alt-weekly. "Our stories get picked up by the mainstream media all the time."

The Village Voice has previously won three Pulitzers, including a 2000 award for international reporting. and the Boston Phoenix won a Pulitzer for criticism in 1994, Cooper said.


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