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A Pulitzer for perseverance

April 08, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Ultimately, Jaquiss uncovered the complete document, which showed that Goldschmidt had agreed to an estimated $250,000 settlement after the victim threatened the lawsuit in 1994. He later learned that the settlement also included three $50,000 lump-sum payments over 10 years.

Jaquiss would spend many late nights and weekends hounding reluctant sources, meeting people in parking lots and begging them for the smallest details. He found the victim in Henderson, Nev., and brought the paper's arts and culture editor, Ellen Fagg, with him to help persuade her, woman to woman, to discuss her ordeal. Instead, the victim, who had signed a confidentiality agreement after her settlement, tape-recorded the 50-minute interview, consulted her attorney by phone and then would only praise Goldschmidt. To make matters worse, Jaquiss forgot the tape was rolling and called the woman a "liar" after she left the room. "Things weren't looking good," he said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 09, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Pulitzer Prize winner -- An article in Friday's Calendar section about Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nigel Jaquiss said he is the middle of three sons. He is the second of four sons.

After tracking down one of the victim's friends, a man without an address or phone number, Jaquiss asked him to confirm or deny, off the record, whether the initials Jaquiss had written on a napkin -- Goldschmidt's -- were those of the abuser.

"The guy instead wadded up his napkin and pointed to a trash can several feet away," recalls Jaquiss. " 'If I make this shot, I'll tell you what you want to know,' he said. He threw the napkin and it rimmed out and fell on the floor. I said, 'Come on, you have to tell me.' He got up and left."

Bit by bit, Jaquiss pieced together the scandal. More than a dozen of the victim's friends confirmed the abuse. There was a 1986 DUI report that contained the names of both the girl and Goldschmidt and a statement from the girl claiming police couldn't arrest her because "Neil Goldschmidt is my best friend."

And in another document, pulled on Jaquiss' behalf by Seattle Weekly colleague Philip Dawdy, the victim, according to Jaquiss, "talked a lot about sexual abuse that occurred at the hands of a family friend and neighbor, 21 years her senior." Goldschmidt and the victim were almost 21 years apart in age, and they lived four houses from each other.

Her mother once worked as Goldschmidt's aide. "That was a Eureka! moment for me," says Jaquiss.

That a small weekly paper won the Pulitzer underscores the declining interest in investigative pieces by many larger news organizations with the resources to dedicate entire teams to a story, notes Bill Kovach, who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington, D.C. "I'm surprised that their award did not include a statement of recognition of the unusual caliber of this decision," he says. "Every journalist I've talked to has expressed surprise at that award."

But Jaquiss and Willamette Week Editor Mark Zusman point out that their award should remind the journalism community that it's passion and perseverance, not necessarily a wealth of resources, that result in great journalism.

"Smarts and doggedness and creativity as well as the desire -- those will trump resources every single time," says Zusman.

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