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2 Times Staffers Share Pulitzer for Beat Reporting

Honors: Stories on entertainment-industry corruption cited. Washington Post wins public-service award.

April 13, 1999|DAVID SHAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Times reporters Chuck Philips and Michael A. Hiltzik won the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting Monday for their stories on corruption in the entertainment industry. The Pulitzer Prize Board cited their work on three major projects--"a charity sham sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, illegal detoxification programs for wealthy celebrities and a resurgence of radio payola."

The prize was The Times' 23rd Pulitzer, and Mark Saylor, entertainment editor in the business section of the paper, said it was especially rewarding because it recognized "aggressive reporting on the hometown industry . . . where The Times has long labored under a cloud, the misperception that we're soft on the entertainment industry."

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press each won two Pulitzers, and the Washington Post won the single most prestigious of the annual awards, the Pulitzer Gold Medal for public service for a series of articles on reckless gunplay by city police officers who had little training or supervision.

The Pulitzers, awarded since 1917 by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, have long been the most coveted of all journalism awards, but they are also highly prized in literature, drama and music. Monday's winners included Margaret Edson, in drama, for "Wit," which had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa in 1995.

"Wit," the story of a professor who is dying of ovarian cancer, grew out of Edson's work as a clerk in a cancer and AIDS research hospital. It was her first play, and although she subsequently wrote a second--a country Western musical--it has not been produced, and she said Monday that she didn't plan to write any more plays.

Edson, a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta, said, "We're in the middle of studying insects, and nothing can take me away. I will continue teaching."

Other winners in the arts included John McPhee, in general nonfiction, for "Annals of the Former World"; Michael Cunningham, in fiction, for "The Hours"; A. Scott Berg, in biography, for "Lindbergh"; Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, in history, for "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898"; Mark Strand, in poetry, for "Blizzard of One"; and Melinda Wagner, in music, for "Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion."

McPhee said he was particularly pleased to win for this book, a compendium of his work over the years on the geology of North America.

"The book weighs about three pounds," he said, "and it's on a subject that's bifurcated my readers more than anything else I've written about. A lot of people are really interested and want me to keep writing about geology, but a lot write me and say--one man wrote me in capital letters to say--"PLEASE STOP WRITING ABOUT GEOLOGY."

Duke Ellington Honored for Genius

The 20-person Pulitzer Prize Board also awarded a special posthumous citation to Duke Ellington, commemorating the centennial year of his birth, "in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture."

Apart from the journalistic award for public service, which always goes to a newspaper rather than an individual, the Pulitzer board generally prefers to give its prizes to individuals. But this year, for the first time, seven of the 14 journalism awards went to the staffs of various papers; another Pulitzer, in editorial writing, went to the editorial board of the New York Daily News for its "effective campaign to rescue Harlem's Apollo Theatre from the financial mismanagement that threatened the landmark's survival."

The Washington Post's public service Pulitzer, the paper's 32nd Pulitzer, involved five reporters in a nationwide investigation of officer-involved shootings. The investigation, triggered by questions from a researcher in the Post's computer-assisted reporting unit, concluded that "our police department had many more fatal shootings than any other police department," Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Post, said Monday. After the Post published its findings, the police chief ordered new training on the use of firearms and on alternatives to deadly force for all 3,500 members of the D.C. police department.

Hartford Courant Also Honored

The staff of the Hartford Courant won the Pulitzer for breaking news for its "clear and detailed coverage of a shooting rampage in which a state lottery worker killed four supervisors and then himself." Brian Toolan, editor of the Courant, said his paper deployed 31 reporters from throughout the state on the story.

"It was a full team effort," he said, and word of the prize triggered "a half-hour of dancing around the newsroom" at the Courant, which is owned by Times Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

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