Downie Assesses Pulitzer Sweep for 'Post': Why This Year?

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, April 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

Downie Assesses Pulitzer Sweep for 'Post': Why This Year?


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


Is it irony or just today's newspaper reality that The Washington Post won nearly half of the Pulitzer Prize journalism awards on Monday -- its most ever -- just a week after launching its second buyout in less than two years?

Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. admits it is strange, but more a sign of the times and another example of why newspapers have to work even harder to utilize resources in today's shrinking revenue stream.

"We have needed to make adjustments and we will make them again," Downie said about how he responds to reduced staffing, which lowered his workforce from about 900 just a few years ago to some 800 now. "It is still possible to do that kind of journalism."

That kind of journalism won the paper six Pulitzers on Monday, ranging from the Public Service Award for its Walter Reed Hospital expose to the feature story by Gene Weingarten on subway violinist Joshua Bell. Others included Columnist Steve Pearlstein winning the first Commentary Pulitzer for a business columnist, Steve Fainaru's International Pulitzer for probing the Blackwater security firm, an in-depth series on Dick Cheney that took the National reporting prize, and coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre that won for Breaking News.

"A lot of things came together, I think, in the last year," says Downie, who gives most of the credit to the staff. "A lot of it is responding to the challenges in our community and in the world....

"I think the last year was an exceptional year for the Post," he added. "There were other years when we did not win, but I think the work merited it and that is going to happen."

It cannot be ignored that this year's Pulitzer sweep brings Downie's Pulitzer count to 25 awards the paper has won since he took over in 1991, not counting editorial page entries. That dwarfs former Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, who oversaw 15 newsroom Pulitzers as editor from 1965 to 1991.

"It is not the count so much," Downie says when asked about the awards collection. "It is just satisfying to do the journalism we have done."

The Pulitzer success this week has, of course, renewed rumors about Downie's possible retirement, given that resources will continue to shrink and the paper has a new publisher in Katharine Weymouth. When asked about his future, all the editor would say is, "we have a new publisher and she and I have a lot of work to do and she and I are working together."

Post staffers were treated to a reception on the newspaper's 9th floor Monday to celebrate, while Publisher Weymouth had a gathering at her home for the winners, Downie said.

The Post's six-award sweep is topped only by The New York Times in 2002, which won seven Pulitzers, many for its Sept. …

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