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Paper in Akron Gets Pulitzer for Stories on Race

April 13, 1994|DAVID SHAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal won the Pulitzer Prize for public service Tuesday for a yearlong examination of race relations and a subsequent campaign that enlisted more than 100 local groups in an effort to improve those relations in the community.

The New York Times won three Pulitzers, two of which were awarded to staff members. The paper was honored for its spot news reporting on the World Trade Center bombing and for Isabel Wilkerson's feature writing--a profile of a fourth-grader on Chicago's volatile South Side and stories on last year's floods in the Midwest.

The paper's third Pulitzer came in feature photography, for South African free-lancer Kevin Carter's photo of a starving Sudanese girl who collapsed on her way to a feeding center while a vulture waited nearby. The photo was first published in the New York Times.

The Chicago Tribune won two Pulitzers, for explanatory journalism--Ronald Kotulak's "lucid coverage of current developments in neurological science"--and for editorial writing--R. Bruce Dold's editorials on the child welfare system in Illinois, specifically the events leading to the murder of a 3-year-old boy by his abusive mother.

In the arts categories, the most notable victory was probably that of Edward Albee, in drama, for his play "Three Tall Women."

Albee, who had previously won Pulitzers for "A Delicate Balance" in 1967 and for "Seascape" in 1975, has been in artistic and commercial eclipse for almost 20 years. But "Three Tall Women" opened Tuesday night in an off-Broadway theater after a successful run in a smaller, off-off-Broadway theater, and his Pulitzer triumph means that only Eugene O'Neill has won more Pulitzers for drama. O'Neill won four--in 1920, 1922, 1928 and 1957.

The other arts winners, all announced Tuesday at Columbia University, included:

* Gunther Schuller, in music, for "Of Reminiscences and Reflections."

* E. Annie Proulx, in fiction, for "The Shipping News"--which, appropriately, has a journalist as protagonist.

* David Remnick, in general nonfiction, for "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire."

* David Levering Lewis, in biography, for "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race."

* Yusef Komunyakaa, in poetry, for "Neon Vernacular." Komunyakaa has Southern California connections, having gained his Masters of Fine Arts degree from the writing program at UC Irvine and having won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award presented last week at the Claremont Graduate School.

The Pulitzer Prize Board, which makes the final selections based on nominations by individual juries in each journalism and letters/drama category, decided to give no award this year in history.

The three history finalists were "Crime and Punishment in American History" by Lawrence M. Friedman, "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK" by Gerald Posner, and "William Faulkner and Southern History" by Joel Williamson.

The board, which previously gave no history award in 1919 and 1984, thought each of this year's finalists was "flawed in certain ways," said board member John L. Dotson Jr., president and publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal.

David Kennedy, a member of the history jury and a history professor at Stanford University, said it was difficult not to regard the board's decision as "a slap in the face of the judgment of the jury."

Kennedy said he was on the history jury in 1984, when the jury itself decided no nominee was worthy of a Pulitzer. But for a jury of respected scholars to select three prize-worthy books and then have their judgment overruled is "pretty egregious," he said.

The board has that absolute right, however, and invokes it frequently--overruling juries by shifting nominees from one category to another or giving the prize to someone not a finalist or bypassing all jury nominees and giving no award on occasion.

This year, for example, the prizewinning feature photograph was originally entered as a feature photograph, nominated as a finalist by the jury in the spot news category and then switched back to the feature photo category by the board.

The public service award is the most coveted journalism prize every year.

Dale Allen, editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, said his paper's triumph in that category actually began in the immediate aftermath of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.

That violence "prompted a group of editors here to get together and decide the paper should examine race relations in Akron by getting beyond what you usually hear about housing, jobs, education, crime and the criminal justice system," Allen said.

The ensuing effort--which involved 29 members of the paper's 161-member staff--relied on traditional reporting as well as on focus groups and computerized analyses of housing patterns, ownership and discriminatory redlining practices by local financial institutions.

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