Pulitzers: The Year of the Kid/Parade Crosses the Street/Gang Warfare | Media | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Media

Pulitzers: The Year of the Kid/Parade Crosses the Street/Gang Warfare

by

comment

The five Pulitzer Prize jurors in the Public Service competition made two piles. One consisted of 20-some entries on the general theme of violence against children. At the top of this stack was "Killing Our Children" from the Chicago Tribune.

Several other entries took up race relations. Best in the jurors' eyes was a study by the Akron Beacon Journal, which had exploited such modern tools of analysis as computers and focus groups.

But of all 119 submissions, the one the jurors admired most was neither of the above. They unanimously favored the reporting by Eileen Welsome of the Albuquerque Tribune on secret experiments in the late 40s in which unknowing humans were injected with plutonium. The jurors doubted there was a better piece of journalism anywhere in the Pulitzer competition.

Pulitzer juries no longer rank their three nominees, but the Public Service jurors showed their enthusiasm for Albuquerque by sending it on to the Pulitzer Prize Board--accompanied by Chicago and Akron--even after learning that Welsome was also a finalist in National Reporting. Eugene Roberts, the incoming managing editor of the New York Times who chaired the jury, told us, "Everyone liked the Albuquerque one so much they thought unanimously one nomination wasn't enough."

Rumors fly in the newspaper business around Pulitzer time, and inside the Tribune newsroom rumor had it that the Tribune would win a Pulitzer in Public Service for "Killing Our Children." It didn't, but the paper didn't come away with nothing. The board diplomatically spread the wealth. Welsome won in National Reporting, Akron in Public Service, and the Tribune's R. Bruce Dold in Editorial Writing for ten editorials he wrote in the course of the Tribune series.

Dold graciously acknowledged "piggybacking" on "Killing Our Children." The Tribune's second Pulitzer was for work that did more than that. Ronald Kotulak, one of the paper's collection of superb science reporters, triumphed in Explanatory Journalism for "Unlocking the mind," articles on the human brain. Kotulak ranged widely, but one of his subjects was the indelible damage that can be done by a dismal childhood.

"For millions of American children," Kotulak wrote, "the world they encounter is relentlessly menacing and hostile. So, with astounding speed and efficiency, their brains adapt and prepare for battle. Cells form trillions of new connections that create the chemical pathways of aggression; some chemicals are produced in overabundance, some are repressed.

"The research also has produced an unexpected and ominous revelation: Environmentally induced brain changes can become permanent, encoding into genes a propensity for aggression and violence that can last a lifetime."

The preoccupation with children exhibited by these Tribune entries ran through the Pulitzers. A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter was a finalist in Beat Reporting for stories on his city's youth; Isabel Wilkerson of the New York Times's Chicago bureau won in Feature Writing for stories on last year's floods (shamefully underreported by the Tribune) and on the difficult life of a fourth-grader on Chicago's south side; two Miami Herald reporters were finalists in Feature Writing for their portrait of suburban teenagers accused of killing a friend.

Jane Daugherty of the Detroit Free Press was a finalist in Commentary for her "Children First" columns; free-lancer Kevin Carter received the Pulitzer in Feature Photography and was a finalist in Spot Photography for a picture of a starving Sudanese girl and a waiting vulture; and Lynn Johnston was a finalist in Editorial Cartooning for a sequence in the comic strip For Better or for Worse about a teenager disclosing his homosexuality.

We sometimes wonder if children are becoming the last refuge of journalism's social conscience. As grist for the mill, battered innocence is almost too easily ground. The adults that kids become cause and suffer most of the woes of the world. Though Kotulak clearly recognizes this, perhaps a growing number of journalists don't. Journalism still has a duty to respect and understand the people who are no longer innocent.

Parade Crosses the Street

The Sunday Tribune soars end over end before dawn each week, shaking our house when it hits the porch with the crack of a falling pine.

When we pad out to retrieve it we feel we hold the whole Tribune Company in our hands: so fat, so profitable, so much easier to admire than enjoy. When shucked to its useful kernels, which are several, it leaves about the house a godawful mess of glossy blow-ins and unread sections.

The Sun-Times's Sunday paper, by contrast, is light, accessible, user friendly. But if these are virtues, the Sun-Times hasn't convinced the public. Recent measures to enhance the product worked in reverse: circulation of the Sunday Sun-Times has dwindled to less than that of the weekly paper, and less than half that of the Sunday Tribune. The best that can be said for the Sunday Sun-Times is that its new owners are far better endowed than the old.

Under these circumstances, the Tribune coup in seizing Parade magazine from the Sun-Times, where it's been lodged since 1941, is an act of preemptive aggression. The Tribune doesn't need Parade, won't be made better by it, and scarcely pretends otherwise. The canned comment from Tribune CEO Jack Fuller put it this way: "Parade's emphasis on international and national celebrity features complements the Chicago Tribune Magazine's focus on the heartland of America's Midwest."

Fuller doesn't quite do Parade justice. The National Enquirer does celebrity features. Parade warms middle American hearts, and celebrities warm them quickest (see last week, Steven Seagal, "I Took A Different Kind Of Path," and Jacques d'Amboise, "We Dance To Save The World"). Thin, homely, a grab bag of earnest copy and tacky ads (The Very Best of Conway Twitty and "the authentic Vidalia Onion"), Parade fails every test of distinguished journalism but one: familiarity. Readers count on it. The elusive ingredients that bind readers to a newspaper are rarely what the writers there want them to be. In the case of the Sunday Sun-Times there may be three: the sports section, TV Prevue, and Parade.

We were alerted to Parade's change of local address by a woman in distress who'd just heard about it on the radio. When we called Carlo Vittorini, publisher of Parade, we described our grieving friend as a creature of habit. "The Tribune is counting on the fact she is not a creature of habit," Vittorini replied. "We're predominantly dependent on advertising revenues. The more dominant the paper in a marketing area, the more attractive we are. When we had the opportunity to distribute [in Chicago] through the Tribune Company it was sort of a practical business decision you didn't have to be Mr. Einstein to figure out."

Parade was freed to deal with the Tribune because the sale of the Sun-Times to Hollinger, Inc., automatically nullified the old open-ended contract. But the change had been speculated about for months. Parade also could have left the Sun-Times a year after giving notice, and although Vittorini wouldn't comment, we suspect he'd either given notice or warned the paper to expect it.

Parade enters the Tribune on June 19. The options the Sun-Times says it's studying seem to amount to three: (1) do without, (2) produce something in-house, or (3) pick up the only other Sunday supplement on the market, Gannett's USA Weekend. But (1) is undisguised defeat, and (2) would buck a trend that's seen in-house supplements, including a couple the Sun-Times used to offer, shutting down.

USA Weekend is already carried by the Daily Southtown, Daily Herald, Northwest Herald, and Copley papers in Aurora, Elgin, Waukegan, and Joliet. None of these papers owns territorial rights, but Chuck Gabrielson, USA Weekend's vice president in charge of newspaper relations, says he won't let two papers in one city carry the supplement. Gabrielson also says his paper is loyal to its clients. In this case he's speaking of clients who gave USA Weekend a presence in the Chicago area after the Tribune briefly carried it on Fridays in the mid-80s, then dropped it.

"They're getting the best of Chicago by getting the seven suburban papers they've got," Tom Jackson, publisher of the Southtown, reasons. "They've got a lot more circulation in the suburbs than they would have if they picked up the Sun-Times."

If they lost the other papers is what Jackson means. He'll fight to keep USA Weekend away from the Sun-Times, but the biggest of the suburban papers, the Daily Herald, is in no position to protest.

Daniel Baumann, president of the Herald's publisher, Paddock Publications, reminded us that Paddock's now in court challenging the exclusive licenses the Sun-Times and Tribune enjoy to carry A-list comic strips and other syndicated features the Herald covets.

"Maybe the Sun-Times would like to join us in our suit," Baumann said.

Gang Warfare

Two weeks ago we wrote that the Sun-Times beat the Tribune silly covering the "outbreak of gang warfare at the Robert Taylor Homes." Then we heard from Tribune reporter Bill Recktenwald, who's convinced us to second-guess our yardstick. Recktenwald argues the mayhem inside the project the weekend of March 26 and 27 was less than it was made out to be--lots of gunfire, lots of hell-raising, but no injuries--while on the streets beyond, pitched gang battles were waged and eight teenagers died. If we'd considered the Tribune's general coverage of all that--including a page-one article on Monday and the lead story in Chicagoland on Tuesday--we couldn't have called the coverage so deficient.

Recktenwald also caught the Sun-Times arguing with itself about what was happening. Its front page that Tuesday proclaimed "New Gang War Erupts: 5 Days of Gunfire Halt Truce," and next to this headline was a bug urging readers to turn to columnist Ray Coffey on page three.

Coffey: "But there is no real truce. . . . The gang killings never really stopped."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Mary Longenfeld.

Add a comment