Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Eric Newhouse, Great Falls Tribune, Explanatory Reporting

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Eric Newhouse, Great Falls Tribune, Explanatory Reporting

Article excerpt

Giant honor for small newspaper

When the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on April 10, Eric Newhouse was at his desk at the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune wrestling with a story on drug abuse. His phone rang. It was CBS Radio in New York, calling for a reaction. Newhouse shook his head, confused. He had forgotten his editors had entered in competition his 12-part series on the scourge of alcoholism in his state. "You do know you won a Pulitzer, don't you?" the radio interviewer asked.

The newsroom cracked open a case of champagne and celebrated - in moderation, of course. Newhouse's wife, Suzie, a schoolteacher, rushed over. The next day, the words "A Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper" ran under the Tribune's flag.

"Just the sheer elation of winning an award of this magnitude for a paper this size is all I've thought about since yesterday," Newhouse commented the following day.

Small can, indeed, be beautiful. Last week, the Tribune showed the world how a 34,000-circulation paper with a full-time staff of 38 can make a deep impact on its community when the paper won the Pulitzer for explanatory writing. In 12 monthly installments, Newhouse demonstrated the economic and social costs of Montana's drug of choice through the lives of people who had battled it.

The award is all the more notable, since small papers that earn Pulitzers tend to win in the spot-news category for coverage of a single big news event. In this case, the Tribune beat out finalists The New York Times, circulation 1.1 million, for a profile of a mentally ill man who pushed a woman in front of an oncoming subway; and the Portland Oregonian, circulation 347,500, which entered its series on how politics influences pesticide regulation.

The Tribune's dedication to the project and its readers made it possible to produce a series of this magnitude, Newhouse explains. "This was grim, and not stuff the community always wanted to hear," says Newhouse, 55, a big man with a bushy, handlebar mustache. "To have committed these kind of resources for this length of time, it was a magnificent decision."

Newhouse's executive editor, Jim Strauss, came up with the idea for a series a year and a half ago after observing that alcoholism was at the root of the state's social problems. Newhouse, who had been with the paper 10 years and with The Associated Press 18 years before that, seemed the natural person to do it, since he's the paper's social- welfare reporter and its projects editor. Newhouse needed no convincing. "It was just a dream to be able to tackle a story of that magnitude," he says.

The paper assembled a panel of experts to help guide the story. Newhouse and his editors mapped out a dozen segments covering topics ranging from domestic violence to alcoholism on Indian reservations to alcohol's relation to other chemical dependencies. Finally, they explored solutions.

Such a project might not cripple a big metropolitan daily. But for the Tribune to pull it off, everyone on staff had to pitch in. The photo and graphics departments made sure the series was well-presented, and the rest of the reporters picked up Newhouse's other duties.

The Tribune, owned by Gannett Co. Inc., seeks to be a statewide paper, and reflecting that in the series was no easy feat. …

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