The Denver Post won the Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service Thursday for a seven-month series of articles which revealed that most missing children are not kidnaping victims--as has been widely assumed--but are involved in custody disputes or are runaways.
The Pulitzer Prize Board praised the Post stories for helping to “mitigate national fears stirred by exaggerated statistics.”
More than half of the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism this year were given for stories that the Pulitzer board felt resulted in some clear reform or social benefit.
Phrases like “mitigate national fears,” “led to significant reforms” and “had a direct impact on subsequent . . . developments” figured prominently in seven of the awards.
The public service award, which carries a gold medal, is given to a newspaper rather than to individual journalists. It has traditionally been the most coveted of the journalism Pulitzers since the awards were first made in 1917. The other awards carry a prize of $1,000 each.
The Pulitzers, the most prestigious awards in journalism, are given annually by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University to honor distinguished work in 14 newspaper categories and seven categories of arts and letters.
Reporters and photographers for Knight-Ridder Newspapers won seven of the 14 newspaper awards this year, the most ever won by one newspaper chain in a single year.
San Jose Paper Wins
Knight-Ridder’s Philadelphia Inquirer and Miami Herald won two Pulitzers each. So did the New York Times. Other Knight-Ridder winners were the San Jose Mercury News, Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“I feel like a proud grandfather . . . " said Larry Jinks, senior vice president for news at Knight-Ridder. “It takes a combination of great work and luck for something like this to happen. I’m proud of the great work our people did, and we’ll accept the luck.”
David Hall, editor of the Denver Post, a Times Mirror paper, seemed even more delighted Thursday by his paper’s Pulitzer.
“The Post is particularly honored by this award because it recognizes the essence of good journalism--to learn the truth and print it,” Hall said.
“Kidnaping children is a problem, but not as huge a problem as the statistics had suggested,” he said.
Hall said his paper’s investigation into the subject of missing children began when a young third-year reporter, Diana Griego, 26, was working on a feature story on the subject and told one of her editors that she didn’t believe the statistics she was finding on missing children.
Two Dozen Stories
The Post then began an investigation that produced more than two dozen stories and involved 20 staff members. Most of the work, Hall said, was done by three reporters--Griego, Louis Kilzer and Norma Udevitz--and two editors--Charles R. Buxton Jr., deputy metropolitan editor, and Vikki Porter, city editor.
The New York Times’ journalism Pulitzers this year came in the criticism and explanatory journalism categories, and one of its foreign correspondents--Joseph Lelyveld--shared the Pulitzer for general non-fiction with a former New York Times reporter, J. Anthony Lukas.
The general non-fiction awards were given to Lelyveld’s “Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White” and to Lukas’ “Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families,” an account of the social and historical factors leading to the school integration crisis in Boston.
The Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry.
Other arts and letters awards included:
--History: " . . . The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age” by Walter A. McDougall.
--Biography: “Louise Bogan: A Portrait” by Elizabeth Frank. (Bogan was an American poet who died in 1970.)
--Poetry: “The Flying Change” by Henry Taylor.
--Music: “Wind Quintet IV” by George Perle, which was premiered last Oct. 2 in New York.
No Drama Award
The Pulitzer Prize Board made no award in the drama category this year, the first time since 1974 (and the 13th time since 1917) that no drama award has been given.
The three-man jury for the drama award unanimously made only one nomination--Robert Wilson’s “The CIVIL warS"-- instead of the customary three, but the board voted not to give the award to Wilson because “The CIVIL warS” has not yet been produced in full.
Wilson is an avant-garde director who creates very visual theater pieces, rather than conventional plays, and segments of his 12-hour play have been produced in various theaters in the United States and abroad. Mel Gussow, a theater critic for the New York Times and chairman of the Pulitzer drama jury, said the jury’s nomination was based on a three-hour excerpt of the play performed in Cambridge, Mass., last March.
“We thought the three hours was both representative of the entire play and self-sustaining, a play in itself,” Gussow said Thursday night.
But Richard Leonard, associate editor of the Milwaukee Journal and a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, said that the board did not think the jury’s partial viewing was “enough to make a judgment.”
“The board found it difficult to vote for something that didn’t really exist, hadn’t been produced and had no finished script,” Leonard said, echoing the sentiments of three other board members interviewed by The Times.
In past years, there has often been controversy when the 18-person Pulitzer board did not agree with the juries’ nominations, especially in the journalism categories. The board has tried to minimize this controversy in recent years by improving the quality of its juries, by reminding jurors that only the board has the power to make the awards and by modifying its rules to require the juries to submit their nominations in alphabetical order, rather than in order of preference.
This year, the board selected a winner other than one of the three finalists nominated by the juries in only one journalism category--editorial cartooning--and even that decision should engender no controversy. The cartooning jury made three nominations but also urged the board to give a special Pulitzer to Jules Feiffer, longtime cartoonist for the Village Voice in New York.
Howard Simons, chairman of the cartooning jury, said the jury thought the prize could only be given to a political cartoonist, and, because Feiffer is as much a social as a political cartoonist, it was not sure he would qualify.
The board decided he did qualify and gave him the award.
The complete list of journalism winners:
--Public service: The Denver Post.
--General news reporting: Edna C. Buchanan of the Miami Herald for her “versatile and consistently excellent” police beat reporting.
--Investigative reporting: Jeffrey A. Marx and Michael M. York of the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader for their series exposing cash payoffs to University of Kentucky basketball players in violation of NCAA regulations (which) " . . . led to significant reforms.”
--Explanatory journalism: The staff of the New York Times for a six-part “comprehensive series on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which explored the scientific, political and foreign policy issues in ‘Star Wars.’ ”
--Specialized reporting: Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty of the Pittsburgh Press for their investigation of violations and failures in the organ transplant system in the United States.
--National reporting (two awards): Arthur Howe of the Philadelphia Inquirer for his “enterprising and indefatigable reporting on massive deficiencies in IRS processing of tax returns, reporting that eventually inspired major changes in IRS procedures and prompted the agency to make a public apology to U.S. taxpayers,” and Craig Flournoy and George Rodrigue of the Dallas Morning News for their investigation into subsidized housing in East Texas, which “uncovered patterns of racial discrimination and segregation in public housing across the United States and led to significant reforms.”
Stories on Marcos
--International reporting: Lewis M. Simons, Pete Carey and Katherine Ellison of the San Jose Mercury News, for a series that “documented massive transfers of wealth abroad by President (Ferdinand) Marcos and his associates and had a direct impact on subsequent political developments in the Philippines and the United States.”
--Feature writing: John Camp of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch for his five-part series “examining the life of an American farm family faced with the worst U.S. agricultural crisis since the Depression.”
--Commentary: Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News, “for columns which consistently championed ordinary citizens.”
--Criticism: Donal J. Henahan of the New York Times for his music criticism.
--Editorial writing: Jack Fuller of the Chicago Tribune for his editorials on constitutional issues.
--Editorial cartooning: Jules Feiffer of the Village Voice.
--Spot news photography: Carol Guzy and Michel duCille of the Miami Herald for their photographs of the devastation caused by the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia.
--Feature photography: Tom Gralish of the Philadelphia Inquirer for his series of photographs of Philadelphia’s homeless.
The Los Angeles Times had two finalists in the 1986 Pulitzer competition--Richard Eder, the book critic, in the criticism category and the late Joseph Kraft in the commentary category.
Times Researcher Tony Robinson in New York contributed to this story.