Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hey, How About the Smaller Papers in the 2009 Pulitzers Today?

It's Pulitzer Day, as a select few will win the Holy Grail of journalism awards. The announcement is made at a press conference at Columbia University in New York City at 3 p.m. Eastern, but winners are notified earlier in the day as a courtesy.

One of my great pleasures as a journalist has been to be in newsrooms as announcements are made that colleagues have won. Newsday has won 19 Pulitzers, and has been a finalist 18 times. I was there for 19 of those 37 announcements, and each one was special. I also enjoyed the fact that I played a small role as news editor for two of the winning projects. (Just to be clear, the news editor has no substantial writing role in these projects, the prizes are for the reporters who justly deserve the credit. But I do have that pride of being part of the process nonetheless.)

I spent most of 2008 in either hospitals or recovering from surgeries so I did not have the opportunity or the strength to do a lot of reading. But the one thing I have learned is that you don't have to work for The New York Times or Washington Post to provide quality reporting. There's great journalism going on outside the Beltway and Manhattan. So, this year, watch out for the little guys! From what I saw, these are the projects I liked:

In Public Service: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's six-part series on toxins in everyday products and the failure of regulatory agencies to monitor them. "Chemical Fallout" looks at "chemicals in the packaging, surfaces or contents of many products may cause long-term health effects, including cancers of the breast, brain and testicles; lowered sperm counts, early puberty and other reproductive system defects; diabetes; attention deficit disorder, asthma and autism. A decade ago, the government promised to test these chemicals. It still hasn't."

In International News: McClatchy reporters Tom Lasseter and Matthew Schofield of McClatchy Newspapers wrote "Guantanamo: Beyond the Law," an eight-month investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into a school for jihad.

In Feature Reporting: Joanna Connors of Cleavland Plain Dealer for "Beyond Rape: A Survivor's Story." Her editor, Susan Goldberg, describes the piece as such: Connors writes about a story she kept quiet about for more than 20 years: her chance encounter with a dangerous felon on parole; the nightmare of the trial; her subsequent years of coping and denial; and, finally, her search to find the man who raped her so she could try, at last, to move on from an incident that changed and scarred her life.

In Commentary: Chris Rose of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Rose has been receiving a lot of attention for his chronicles of the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans since 2005, giving us in great detail the struggles that city and its residents have faced.

This year will be notable for at least one reason, it's the first year that prizes will be expanded to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet. The Pulitzer Board also has decided to allow entries made up entirely of online content to be submitted in all 14 Pulitzer journalism categories. So this year, lets hear it from the smaller papers and online organizations.

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