Public event explores impact of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism in Colorado Springs

By: Stephanie Earls

June 12, 2016 Updated: Today at 8:39 am
photo - Adam (front) and Megan pose in the Gazette photop studio for the photo thta was the cover of the special section about the family healing journey. Photo by Tom Kimmell, The Gazette
Adam (front) and Megan pose in the Gazette photop studio for the photo thta was the cover of the special section about the family healing journey. Photo by Tom Kimmell, The Gazette 

You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to know modern times have been tough on print journalism. The tech revolution ushered in unprecedented – and, in some cases, insurmountable – challenges as the ways in which readers get their news continue to evolve.

The mission and role of a newspaper, both in concept and the community it serves, however, are unchanged since the Pulitzer Prizes first were awarded in 1917.

“A journalist is the lookout on the bridge of the ship of state,” wrote Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-born immigrant and reporter-turned-publisher whose newspaper empire included The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York World.

Pulitzer died in 1911, leaving a bequest that created the awards and later supported the foundation of the Columbia School of Journalism, whose parent institution administers the yearly prizes, today awarded in 21 categories honoring the best American works in arts and letters.

To celebrate the prizes’ centennial year, The Gazette and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are exploring the impact of award-winning journalism at a free public panel discussion Thursday. The event, part of a state and national initiative honoring journalism’s highest award, features the storytellers behind The Gazette’s two Pulitzer Prize-winning projects: “Adam and Megan” and “Other Than Honorable.”

“We thought it was very important to offer an opportunity for the community to learn more about the journalism and to have a chance to meet and hear from the photographers and reporters who produced the work,” said Joanna Bean, assistant director of communications and media relations at UCCS and former Gazette editor. “It’s also about the people and topics and issues that journalism brings to the fore and a chance to give people some insight into how these projects come together.”

Bean had started as a reporter at the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph in 1990 when the paper earned its first Pulitzer, for feature writing, for “Adam and Megan: A story of one family’s courage.” Reporter Dave Curtin’s account, illustrated by the images of photographer Tom Kimmell, told of the aftermath and road to recovery of a local family whose members were burned severely in a propane gas explosion at their home.

“I remember being this wide-eyed, brand-new reporter completely overwhelmed by what was happening in the newsroom the day he won,” said Bean, who went on to play a formative editing role in The Gazette’s second Pulitzer-winning project almost a quarter-century later.

To produce “Other Than Honorable,” the 2014 prize-winner for national reporting, reporter Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo spent months chronicling the struggles of wounded combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and how the Army systematically failed them.

“I don’t necessarily think you have to do long-term, in-depth reporting to have an impact, but we did have an impact immediately with that series – not only for the three guys we focused on, whose lives were dramatically changed after we showed what they were going through, but in that it continues to shape military policy to this day,” said Philipps, whose work inspired a number of federal laws affecting wounded combat veterans, their care and access to benefits.

Philipps hopes his contribution to the panel discussion will help “lift the curtain” on how journalism and stories of all sizes and scope make their way to readers.

“I think people think that we know what we’re doing when we start, and it’s just a matter of going to work. But a lot of times, you can’t know what the story is until you’ve groped around in the dark awhile gathering data,” said Philipps, now a staff reporter at The New York Times covering the military and veterans affairs on a national scale.

The Gazette was the smallest-circulation newspaper awarded a Pulitzer in 2014.

“The big deal for us is The Gazette didn’t really have very many resources, but I think that we’re all really proud of what we did by just working hard and working together to get something done we all thought was really important,” Philipps said. “A lot of people put in extra time and effort.

“I get the credit, but there were a ton of people who had to do a lot more than was normally expected, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”