UPDATE, March 2011: Mahoney won the National Headliner Award for editorial writing.
Small-market newspapers can have effective editorial pages by writing strongly, conducting campaigns, using varied approaches and leavening their criticism with praise, the small-daily editorialist who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing told journalists in Alaska today.
Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., was among the speakers at the Alaska Press Club’s annual “J-Week,” a conference that brings journalists from all over the nation, and sometimes other nations, to share knowledge with those on The Last Frontier.
“I’m always thinking of different ways to use the language,” Mahoney told those at his session. “A lot of people have one style and that’s it. . . . I try to use five or six different styles” in writing 200 editorials a year. He said one editorial in a campaign against underage drinking consisted almost entirely of a series of ridiculous comments by readers who didn't like an earlier editorial.
Another unusual approach, depicting a government-secrecy issue in bedroom terms, may have helped Mahoney win the Pulitzer for the 30,000-circulation Lee Enterprises paper. He said that got a lot of attention, but he pointed to a very different approach in another of the 10 editorials he submitted. That one profiled two local officials who he thought did a good job of providing public records. That approach fit one of the bullet points on Mahoney’s handout: “When someone does something well, make sure you praise them on your editorial pages."
Other tips: Use editorial pages to educate, with fresh reporting; make editorial pages attractive, with photos and graphics; and recommend outside resources with sidebars and boxes. Here is our item from last year about his Pulitzer victory, which he said the town of Glens Falls took as its own. "They felt like it was an accomplishment we had all achieved," he said, so he put the prize on display at the local library, and when he asked recently if the staff wanted to return it, they said, "Oh, no, people still come in and have their pictures taken with it."