Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pulitzer Season Begins! Book Probes Public Service Winners

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pulitzer Season Begins! Book Probes Public Service Winners

Article excerpt

Roy Harris Jr. says up front that his interest in the Pulitzer Prize's coveted Public Service Award is based at least in part on family ties.

After all, his father, Roy Harris Sr., had a hand in winning four of the awards in the 1940s and 1950s as a reporter and editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Still, there is much more to chew on than his family tree in Harris' book "Pulitzer Gold: Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism" (University of Missouri Press), out this month. Harris, a senior editor at CFO magazine, looks at the history of the most honored of the 14 Pulitzers.

First given in 1918, the Public Service honor is the only Pulitzer that awards no prize money, is never given to an individual, and has no restrictions on subject matter, form of entry, or scope.

"My feeling was, originally, it had not gotten as much attention as the easier-to-follow awards," Harris tells E&P. "But when I started doing reporting, I found out it was a much more different story to tell because of the complexities of the newsroom models. Each one is very different." He notes that few people know the individual winning stories beyond the awards to The Washington Post in 1973 for its Watergate coverage and The New York Times in 1972 for the Pentagon Papers.

"For some reason, people were not telling the story behind history. It is clearly the prize that Joseph Pulitzer considered most important," Harris says of the newspaper mogul who created the awards. He also points to the impact the Public Service stories must have in order to be considered: They must show the reporting made a difference.

"Public service is specifically geared to change," he adds. "The juries and the board look at some change that is wrought in America."

Among the earliest Public Service winners noted in the book is the Boston Post's 1921 award for exposing the first Ponzi schemes (a type of illegal "pyramid" investment scams). "Charles Ponzi was an incredibly popular person when the Boston Post burst his bubble," Harris says. "The Post worked against the crowd, they found out he had a record of corruption. It was a classic case of exposure."

Harris also notes early exposure of the Ku Klux Klan the 1920s, garnering two Public Service awards during that decade for the New York World and the Columbus (Ga.) Enquirer-Sun. Smaller papers get notice, as with the 1977 award to the Lufkin (Texas) News for an expos? of efforts to cover up the training-related death of a U.S. Marine -- a story that began as a simple obituary. …

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