Friday, April 15, 2016

Here's hoping a rural paper wins a Pulitzer Monday

Roy Peter Clark
Last year only two newspapers with circulation under 100,000 won Pulitzer Prizes—The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. and the Daily Breeze in Torrance, Calif. Neither of those communities are especially rural. When Pulitzer Prizes are announced Monday the big names in journalism are likely to be well represented, just as they are every year, but it's a good time to root for the little guy, the rural papers who work just as hard, if not harder, than the big papers, but get little credit outside their communities.

"Jealousy and careerism aside, most journalists feel pride in the accomplishments of any Pulitzer Prize winner, but especially winners from small papers with limited means," writes Roy Peter Clark of The Poynter Institute. "Let history be our guide. In 1953 the Gold Medal for Public Service went to two weekly newspapers in North Carolina, the Whiteville News Reporter and the Tabor City Tribune, with a combined circulation less than 7,000. The papers, led by Willard Cole and W. Horace Carter respectively, shared the prize. They had worked independently attacking the same evil: the night-riding terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan." They were the first weeklies to win.

Clark notes that Edward R. Murrow of CBS featured the papers in his "See It Now" program, saying in conclusion, "We suggest that if the fight against intolerance, bigotry, race prejudice, hatred and fear is to be won in this country, it must be won in the towns like the two we have seen here."

Other Pulitzer-winning rural journalists cited by Clark include: "Buford Boone, who won in 1957 for the Tuscaloosa News for editorials against mob violence against the integration of the University of Alabama ... Ira B. Harkey Jr., who won in 1963 for the Pascagoula Chronicle for defense of the rule of law in the desegregation of Ole Miss [and] Hazel Brannon Smith, who won in 1964 for the Lexington (Miss.) Advertiser for work that spoke against violence and injustice." Clark focuses on civil-rights crusaders, omitting the Point Reyes Light of western Marin County, California, which won in 1979 for its reporting on the Synanon cult, and several other rural winners.

"So in this the centennial year of the Pulitzer Prizes, let us declare a moratorium on weeping and gnashing of teeth over the economic woes of newspapers," Clark writes. "Let no editor be overheard saying, 'I once had 200 reporters to work with, now I only have 100.' Let any such lamentations be met with a quick trip through the history of Pulitzer Prizes devoted to social justice and equality. Let’s offer a prayer of thanks to the Coles, Carters, Boones, Harkeys, and Smiths of the world who, for the cause of justice, and with tiny staffs, put their lives and livelihoods on the line. If a small newspaper wins a Pulitzer on Monday, one of those voices cheering in the background will be mine." (Read more)

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