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L.A. Times wins Pulitzers for coverage of California drought and cultural criticism

In addition to Pulitzer wins in feature writing and criticism, the Los Angeles Times had two finalists

The Los Angeles Times has won two Pulitzer Prizes, American journalism’s top honor, for its coverage of California’s drought and for cultural criticism.

Staff writer Diana Marcum won the feature writing prize for her narrative portraits of farmers, fieldworkers and other Californians in drought-stricken towns in the Central Valley.

Mary McNamara, The Times’ television critic and cultural editor, won the prize for criticism.

LIST: See all the winners

Times Editor Davan Maharaj said the prizes, announced Monday at Columbia University, spoke to the newspaper’s resiliency and commitment to excellence after years of adversity that included bankruptcy, layoffs and changes in ownership.

“Through it all, the staff’s dedication to producing the highest-quality journalism and serving our community has been inspiring and sustaining,” he said.

The Times has now won a total of 43 Pulitzer Prizes.

Marcum, who is based in Fresno, wrote piercingly throughout 2014 about the financial and emotional toll of the drought in California’s agricultural heartland.

In one story from her winning package, she profiled 68-year-old Fred Lujan, a “gentleman farmer” in the town of Terra Bella who, she wrote, “called his pistachio trees his babies, his girls, and gave them names.”

As the drought stretched into its third year, the local irrigation district sealed off his water meter. “How am I supposed to just sit here and watch everything turn brown and die?” Lujan asked.

A former columnist for the Fresno Bee, Marcum became a staff writer for The Times in 2011 -- an ambition she said she had harbored since elementary school -- after freelancing for the paper off and on for years.

McNamara was honored for 2014 columns on the death of Joan Rivers, Stephen Colbert’s departure from Comedy Central, the media circus attending the Sochi Olympics and myriad television shows.

She often ranged beyond television to examine broader cultural trends and controversies, including the debate about the role on-screen sexism might play in real-world violence.

“To argue that entertainment does not impact culture is absurd,” she wrote. “Hollywood doesn’t get to take credit for breaking ground with films such as ‘Philadelphia’ and shows like ‘Will & Grace’ or for that matter ‘Girls,’ only to wash its hands of more destructive attitudes.”

In a column celebrating the diversity of such non-cable shows as Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” she wondered why “prestige” cable had not shown similar progress in “embracing the rainbow.”

And in a column exploring the joys of the series “House of Cards,” she noted that Netflix released Season Two on Valentine’s Day, adding: “Binge-watching has become the new sex.”

McNamara joined The Times in 1990, and covered the film industry for four years before becoming a television critic eight years ago. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2013 and again in 2014, and is the author of the novels “Oscar Season” and “The Starlet.”

Also Monday, Times staff writer Richard Marosi and photojournalist Don Bartletti were named Pulitzer finalists in international reporting for the series “Product of Mexico,” which explored the harsh working conditions at export farms across Mexico.

“Because of their series, millions of Mexicans will have better lives,” Maharaj said.

Marosi was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting in 2013 for his stories on the plight of immigrants deported from the U.S. to Mexico.

Bartletti, a Times photojournalist since 1984, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for photo essays about young Central American migrants.

The Times was also a finalist for breaking news for coverage of the Isla Vista shooting rampage. The staff mobilized reporters in the middle of the night to cover a deadly spree near the campus of UC Santa Barbara that left seven dead, including the killer, and wounding 13. 

The Daily Breeze of Torrance won the Pulitzer for local reporting for the newspaper's investigation of the Centinela Valley Union High School District. Pulitzer judges cited the paper's "inquiry into widespread corruption in a small, cash-strapped school district, including impressive use of the paper’s website."

READ THE STORIES

Mary McNamara: Pulitzer winning 2014 columns

Diana Marcum: Scenes from California's Dust Bowl

Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti: Product of Mexico series

Times staff: Timeline of Isla Vista shooting rampage coverage

 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:27 p.m.: This article updates with information about the local reporting prize.

12:29 p.m.: This article updates with additional information about the Isla Vista coverage.

This story was originally published at noon.

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