Just when it seemed like things could not get any stranger for the Post-Gazette in recent months, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced on Monday.
The staff of the Post-Gazette picked up a much-deserved Pulitzer for its coverage of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in October and its aftermath. The Pulitzer judges recognized the newspaper for its “immersive, compassionate coverage … that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.”
Even as it seems active shooter events have become a regular occurrence across the United States (in fact the South Florida Sun Sentinel also won a Pulitzer for mass shooting coverage), the Post-Gazette’s reporting of the incident stood out in many heartfelt ways. The moment that seemed the most poignant to many was when the newspaper ran the Jewish mourner’s prayer in Hebrew across the banner.
David Shribman, who was then the newspaper’s executive editor explained:
“When you conclude there are no words to express a community’s feelings, then maybe you are thinking in the wrong language.
“That’s what prompted me to consider whether an excerpt from a 10th-century prayer might be the appropriate gesture — of respect, of condolence — for a 21st-century audience mourning its dead, whether family, friend, congregant, neighbor or, simply, Pittsburgher.”
Shribman, who won his own Pulitzer for beat reporting in 1995 with The Boston Globe, also wrote a heartfelt column about what it was like for the shooting to take place in his neighborhood. He talked about how “the knotted fringes of tzitzit are familiar features at the corners of the garments of the Orthodox who walk through the area just before sundown Friday evenings” and how shock and sadness filled the air.
Of course, what makes this moment especially awkward for the Post-Gazette and its owners is that Shribman no longer works for the newspaper. He abruptly resigned less than two months after the shooting. The newspaper’s publisher John Block Jr. ranted about Shribman in the newsroom this winter, boasting that he had fired the former executive editor.
On Monday, Shribman appeared in the Post-Gazette’s newsroom to celebrate the Pulitzer announcement. He asked the staff to observe a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shooting.
“We are not so much celebrating as affirming … the job we were put on this earth to do,” Shribman said, according to reporter Joyce Gannon. “Let’s dedicate ourselves to the memory of those whose lives were lost.”
The Block family could not ignore the obvious: that Shribman led the effort that brought them journalism’s highest prize. Allan Block, John’s brother and the chairman of Block Communications Inc., which owns the Post-Gazette, was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “I give David Shribman the credit for having the sensitivity and intellectual depth to understand this story at its deepest level. He directed this and it took the best of all of our people to make the coverage outstanding.”
Sally Stapleton, the newspaper’s managing editor at the time of the attacks, stepped down in March.
The fact that the Pulitzer recognized the staff also creates an uncomfortable moment for ownership. The Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom employees, continues to fight for a new contract. Most employees are wearing union solidarity buttons on their shirts and the guild has hung a huge sign in the newsroom that reads, “Shame on the Blocks!” Guild members haven’t had a raise in 13 years.
The Blocks’ difficult day didn’t end there. The Post-Gazette’s staff had one more reason to celebrate: The Pulitzers recognized one of their former colleagues, cartoonist Rob Rogers, as a finalist in editorial cartooning. Of course, the Blocks fired him from the staff last summer over disagreements about whether he created too many anti-Trump cartoons.
The series of nine articles that won the Pulitzer for Breaking News were under the bylines of these Post-Gazette writers: Kris Mamula, Andrew Goldstein, Paula Reed Ward, Liz Navratil, Shelly Bradbury, Bill Schackner, Rich Lord, Christopher Huffaker, Ashley Murray and Peter Smith. A huge congrats to all!
In a separate local connection this year – unrelated to the Post-Gazette – author Eliza Griswold won a Pulitzer in the General Nonfiction category for her book “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America.” The narrative follows the story of a family in Amity, Washington County, Pa., as it deals with the consequences of the region’s fracking boom.
Andrew Conte, director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You may find all of his columns here, and you may reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com.