State of the Debate

Debate: Those Pulitzer winners and me ...

First Published      Last Updated Apr 13 2017 03:44 pm

[Video: The Announcement. Tribune bit at about 6:30. Storm Lake Times part at 7:58.]

I am among those who are deliriously happy for the team of editors, reporters and photographers who did the hard, long and often gut-wrenching work that led to Monday's awarding of the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting to The Salt Lake Tribune.

I only bask in their glory. I did exactly none of the work. About the only things I have to do with their award is that I know these folks, I got to drink some of their sparkling wine and — accidentally, I assure you — photobombed the picture of the staff that ran on the front page of today's paper. Standing in, I guess, for the ghost of Joseph Pulitzer. (We are both bearded, liberal newspapermen. And I've been to St. Louis a few times.)

Almost as fun for me was the news that this year's Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing went to someone I don't know but sort of used to be.

The editorial writing prize is the one that often goes to some of the smaller newspapers. That's because it doesn't depend on having an investigative staff or a network of worldwide bureaus. It's about the writing, pure and simple.

Or, as the Pulitzer Board itself puts it every year. "For distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction..."

This year that prize went to Art Cullen, a jack of all journalistic trades at The Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa, "For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa."

Like the articles that won the Tribune its prize, Cullen's point was to speak truth to, and about, power. He called out the state's agribusiness giants for secretly funneling money to local governments, money used to fight off the downstream Des Moines Water Works and others who were trying to halt the continuing excess of agricultural chemicals and other runoff.

Cullen and his family run the twice-weekly paper with a circulation of 3,000. They do everything. Report. Edit. Take pictures. Lay out and proof pages. And, before they contracted that out to another publisher, run the press.

I empathize. I spent a few years reporting, writing editorials and, on Friday nights, helping to pull the newspapers off the press, for newspapers almost as small in Kansas. At one of the larger of them, I was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1998. The winner that year ran a neighborhood weekly in the Riverdale area of New York City, and the other finalist wrote for the Colorado Daily in Boulder.

The three of us did a panel discussion a few months later and talked about how, as writers for small newspapers, we had both the burden and pleasure of saying whatever we wanted without having to sit through editorial board meetings or win consensus from upper management.

As one observant writer put it that day, we had room but no board.

Salt Lake Tribune wins Pulitzer for campus rape coverage, praises victims for sharing their stories — David Noyce | The Salt Lake Tribune

"What began with a brave college student and continued with a band of tenacious journalists resulted Monday in a Pulitzer Prize for The Salt Lake Tribune and its groundbreaking investigation of rapes at Utah colleges.

"The award for local reporting marks the second Pulitzer for Utah's largest daily in its nearly 150-year history.

"Paul Huntsman, the paper's owner and publisher, called the award a "great tribute to the professionalism and outstanding work of our staff."

" 'The world now knows the quality and commitment of The Salt Lake Tribune, something many of us have been aware of for some time,' said Huntsman, who bought the newspaper last May. ..."

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