| Upcoming Book on Pulitzers Reveals 2006 Jury 'Struggle'
By Joe Strupp
Published: December 04, 2007 10:55 AM ET
YORK When the 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalists were leaked shortly
after jurors chose them
nearly two years ago, the coveted Public Service nominations caused a
stir because The Sun
Herald of Biloxi, Miss. got the nod -- and the Times-Picayune in New
Orleans did not.
Just six moths after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast,
many expected that both papers
would be up for the award given their heroic work on the story. Although
both papers eventually
shared that Gold Medal award when the Pulitzer Board chose winners that
April, the Public
Service jury was criticized by many for initially excluding the New Orleans
paper as some
wondered how they could choose one paper without the other.
Well, a soon-to-be published book about the award, "Pulitzer's
Gold" by Roy J. Harris Jr. (2008,
University of Missouri Press) reveals that the Public Service jury actually
nominating both papers for the award, and even asked if they could combine
them into a joint
nomination. They discarded the idea after Pulitzer Administrator Sig
Gissler informed them that
such a move was against the rules.
"The jury was reluctant to give two of its three finalist selections to
coverage of one event,
even an event like America's worst hurricane ever," Harris writes
in the book, due out next
The jury had agreed on the other two finalists -- The Washington
Post for coverage of the U.S.
war on terror and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, for reporting on the "Coingate" scandal
remained stuck on which of the two Katrina papers would get the third
"So a query was sent to…Gissler. Could the jury simply
make a joint entry, nominating both gulf
papers…?" Harris writes. He quotes legendary editor Eugene
Roberts, one of that jury's members
as saying, "Basically, [Gissler] said no, it wasn't possible….We
should come up with a total of
three and if the board wants to award two Gold Medals, then that was
their prerogative, but not
Roberts confirmed the story to E&P on Monday, adding, "if
left to our own devices, we would have
nominated both papers." Asked why the jury did not simply make the
Sun Herald and the
Times-Picayune two of the three finalists, Roberts said the jury did
not want to exclude other
work of a different nature: "We tried to have our cake and eat it
Janet Coats, editor of The Tampa Tribune and chair of that jury,
echoed that view. "We just kept
getting hung up on the whole idea that they should both be considered,
but we wanted other
subjects to be considered," she told E&P.
Coats added that the jury spent about half a day debating which
of the Katrina papers to choose:
"Our notes to the board reflected our struggle with all of that."
In the end, Coats and Roberts said the Sun Herald got the finalist
nod for several reasons. One,
according to Harris' book, was that the paper had published every day
after the hurricane and
had "pulled off a near-miracle of publishing."
Coats also pointed to the Sun Herald's online work. "This
was a smaller paper, with a newsroom
that was a victim of the disaster as much as its community had been,
and you saw the
completeness of their voice," Coats told Harris. "Its editorial
image got stronger and stronger
and stronger." Roberts adds in the book, "they were everywhere
for a staff of their size."
Then there was the fact that the Times-Picayune was also going
to be a finalist in another
category, Breaking News, for the Katrina coverage -- a prize it eventually
won. Roberts said the
Breaking News jury was at the table next to the Public Service jury during
deliberations, so his
group knew the New Orleans' paper would get another chance. "We
knew the board would see it
Still, the Public Service jurors took an extra step to ensure the
Times-Picayune was not
completely left out of the running, writes Harris: "Jurors…prepared
a note to the board
elaborating on their thinking and listing the Times-Picayune among its
three 'alternates' for
the Public Service prize."
Harris writes that "the jury sent the signal that both gulf
coast papers were worthy."