The Pulitzer Prizes are to journalism what a Super Bowl ring is to a pro football player. Winning one means players performed at the top of their game.
Lots of smaller newspapers don’t bother to enter the contest each year, assuming the big buys with all the resources, bells and whistles will take the top prize in all the categories.
Still, having your stories, photos and art work entered in the annual competition is something you carry with you throughout your career, win or lose.
But given the recent Pulitzer winners announcement, maybe us little guys ought to give it a shot. Like just about any spirited competition, you never really know what’s going to happen, current events being what military strategists would call a target-rich environment, so now is the time for meaningful journalism.
The Pulitzer winners announcement is what sparked this episode of self-interest on our part, specifically the prize awarded to Jeffry Garritt, editor of the Palestine Herald-Express.
Palestine is in east Texas, sitting about in the middle of a triangle, the tips of which would be Dallas, Houston and Shreveport. The town has fewer than 19,000 residents, just more than a third of whom subscribe to the hometown Herald-Express.
Which makes Garritt’s Pulitzer victory that much more significant. A paper that size generally does not have deep pockets, but its editor apparently has a deep and abiding interest in powerful local journalism, including the series he wrote on jail inmates dying at an alarming clip, after the county’s sheriff telling him that “is not news.”
Garritt’s series turned out to not only be news, but it won him and the Herald-Express a singular honor, a first place in editorial writing.
Usually that level of honor goes to the heavyweights such as the New York Times or Washington Post. But Garritt’s win validates the belief that all journalism matters, and that is doubly true when it happens in a small east Texas town involving a problem that had been swept under the rug for years.
Garritt’s series had the desired effect. Texas lawmakers created policy to better protect those in custody. Other, larger media outlets picked up the story and ran with it. That probably would have been gratification enough for Garritt, a natty local character with a determined attitude. The Pulitzer honor was the rich dessert with a cherry on top.
The focus, at least for us, is that as the number of newspapers in the United States continues to dwindle, the need for local, community-driven journalism increases. There are far fewer voices and government watchdogs in print journalism, so the importance of having a newspaper in your community has grown exponentially.
Never has the concept been more valid than at this moment, as our North County communities still struggle with COVID-19, and elected leaders in most cities and the county are in the midst of making what could turn out to be life-or-death decisions. We don’t want to be overly dramatic about this, but our statement on the importance of local decision-making perfectly matches the situation in which we all find ourselves. And that is why we spend so much of our time and energy on bringing readers the latest coronavirus developments.
Jeffry Garritt took the Herald-Express job in 2017, even after a blown job interview, which he said left him demoralized. But after the Pulitzer surprise, he’s pumped up and ready for another challenge in his community.
It’s not size that matters. It’s the size of the heart.
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