Six Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists shared their stories, tips and the sources of inspiration that produced their award-winning work at a discussion at the National Press Club Monday.
The Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in journalism, is awarded annually to an elite group of news reporters, columnists, critics and cartoonists from around the country.
“I heard 48 hours before (the winners were) announced that something might be coming our way and I panicked. I went away for the weekend and pulled the covers over my head,” Washington Post columnist Colbert King said. “I didn’t feel that I belonged in that company and I was scared and I’m still now trying to get used to the idea that I am a Pulitzer Prize winner.”
King was honored along with Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe, David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Alan Miller from the Los Angeles Times, Diana Sugg of the Baltimore Sun and William Ketter from the Eagle-Tribune.
Sugg, a medical reporter for the Sun, said one of her award-winning pieces had inauspicious beginnings.
“The article started with a letter to the editor in a medical journal,” she said. “I read a letter from a nurse who said that studies are showing that it’s better for families to be (in the room) during the last few minutes of a patient’s life than not be there, which really intrigued me.”
Ketter said he appealed to the reader’s emotions when he wrote several articles on a group of boys who fell through the ice on the way home from school earlier this year.
“The story contains the three H’s: horror, heroism and heartbreak,” he said. “The story had the horror of the kids falling through the ice, the heroism of the other kids trying to save them and the heartbreak of the community (when some kids didn’t survive).”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist Horsey noted that while his work is not taken as seriously as Sugg’s or Ketter’s, there is an important message behind each of the cartoons.
“I worked as a reporter for a few years until you started being able to get paid for being a cartoonist, and I thought that it was too good to be true,” he joked. “But even though the editorial cartoons I write are satire, there is a serious purpose to all of that and it is to communicate that irony, and all the other tools that cartoonists have, to get people to think about the issue.”
King, of the Washington Post, said his columns are treated differently from news reporting and is often regarded negatively.
“If there’s a war going on in the valley, people say that editorial writers are part of the cavalry. We stay on top of the hill until the battle is over and then we ride down and we shoot the wounded. That’s not quite true, but we do let the air out of people,” he said.