Dennis McCarthy: Winning the Pulitzer Prize – journalism’s top honor – LA Daily News
The nine newspapers in the Los Angeles News Group have all done some remarkable journalism over the years and won their share of awards.
But never the Big One – the top honor every newspaper reporter and editor covets. The Pulitzer Prize.
It’s our profession’s Academy Award and Nobel Peace Prize. Our Medal of Honor. It means you’ve been judged the best of the best. You can brag all you want after that because you’ve earned the right.
Frank Suraci won’t brag. It’s not his style. He’ll grumble and complain because that’s what good city editors do. But he won’t brag. So let me do it for him.
Frank led the investigative team for the Daily Breeze that won the Pulitzer this week for its series on corruption in the Centinela Valley Union High School District.
A couple of talented young reporters, Rebecca Kimitch and Rob Kuznia, did the legwork and writing. Frank pulled it all together and made sure they knocked on every door that needed knocking on, and made every phone call to triple check the facts.
That’s what good city editors do — besides yell a lot.
Frank’s a graduate of the Lou Grant School of Journalism. Tough, abrasive at times and sentimental when he needs to be. We worked together back in the late ’70s when newspapers were rolling in dough, and a city editor had no shortage of bodies to send out on a story.
The staff was young and full of itself. We’d grab a few beers after work, and talk about how we were going to make our mark on this profession we loved. It was heady times for newspapers.
Most of us left the Breeze after a few years and moved on to other newspapers, but not Frank. He stayed loyal to the paper that gave him his first job and soon rose to become its city editor.
He bought himself a bottle of Tums, and slid into his slot on the city desk — surrounding himself with the best reporters he could find, such as the late columnist John Bogert, who was a must-read in South Bay homes for over 25 years.
Frank never grabbed the headlines for himself. He was content to be the guy behind the curtain pulling the strings. The silent partner who seldom, if ever, gets the public recognition for a job well done.
The 1980s and most of the 1990s were kind to local newspapers, but the 2000s hit us with a sledgehammer. The Internet was cutting into our readership and advertising, and it was only getting worse.
Cutbacks were inevitable. Solid reporters and editors lost their jobs and we all tightened our belts — fighting to keep putting out the best newspaper we could with dwindling resources.
Most of you readers stayed with us because we’d become a family habit. How could you possibly start your day without sneaking out to the driveway in your bathrobe — hoping the neighbors wouldn’t see you — and bringing in your local paper to read with your cup of coffee?
Sure, we were looking a little anemic some mornings, but we were still fighting for those stories that make a difference, and you continued to give us your loyalty.
You played a big part in this coup Frank and his staff scored for all the papers in LANG this week. Without you, we’re not here. And that means nobody’s guarding the henhouse.
Because nothing — not the Internet, TV, radio, or social media — burrows more deeply into the community to root out corruption and wrongdoing than your local newspaper.
And that’s the takeaway on this story. After more than 40 years of loyalty to the same newspaper — pulling all the strings he could find to make it better — the guy guarding the henhouse for the public in the South Bay came out from behind the curtain this week to take a bow.
Frank Suraci finally got his headline — “Pulitzer Prize Winner.”
Dennis McCarthy’s column appears on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.