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Putting the P.U. in Pulitzer

Trib writes P-G sister paper out of awards story

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If there's ever a Pulitzer Prize for pettiness, the Tribune-Review may have a solid chance of winning one.

 

Like many media outlets, when the Trib printed a story on the 2004 winners of the Pulitzer Prize -- the most prestigious award in American journalism -- it relied upon an April 5 Associated Press wire story. Unlike many other papers, the Trib's account had one curious omission: It neglected to name the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Longer versions of the story that ran elsewhere, by contrast, included not just the names of the winners but the fact that they were "sipp[ing] champagne out of plastic cups" when they heard the news.

 

In fact, out of 13 categories in which awards were presented this year, only the "investigative reporting" category was omitted in the Trib's version of the story (visible -- for now -- at www.pittsburghlive.com/x/search/s_187971.html). By an amazing coincidence, that award just happened to be earned by the Toledo Blade, the sister publication of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

 

Both the Blade and the P-G are owned by the Block family, and the series was reprinted by the Pittsburgh paper when it ran last October. When it won the Pulitzer, the P-G crowed with a full-page ad and a chest-thumping editorial. The Trib, by contrast, was oddly quiet, though ordinarily it is only too happy to point out the connection between the two Block papers. In a March 9 editorial, for example, the Trib referred to its rival as the "Block Bugler (a.k.a., the Toledo, Ohio Post-Gazette)."

 

That editorial referred derisively to P-G editor David Shribman for claiming to maintain a "wall of separation between a newspaper's opinion and news pages." But could the Trib use such a wall itself? Could it just not bear to acknowledge its rival's success?

 

Tribune-Review editor Frank Craig, who actually worked at the Blade before coming to Pittsburgh, did not return calls. But John R. Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of both the Blade and the P-G, says "Clearly it wasn't done by accident, though I doubt it was reasoning that you or I could follow." Curiously, Block says, when the Post-Gazette itself won a Pulitzer -- a 1998 award for photographs of African refugees -- the Trib did report it. "On that occasion they did report the award, though they buried it deep in the story. But what's strange is they don't report it when it's a sister paper in a town 200 miles away."

 

Block isn't the only one to wonder about the Trib's motives. On Jim Romenesko's blog on the Poynter Institute Web site, frequented by journalists and news junkies, an anonymous poster noted on the day after the Pulitzer announcement that the Trib "did some creative editing in today's editions." And as another Poynter reader wryly observed, "tit for tat, all's fair in love and newspapering."

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