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Posted at 05:22 PM ET, 04/18/2011

Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting? Look no further than best journalism ad ever


Paige St. John of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (AP)
Just around 2:30 p.m. EST Monday in newsrooms around the country, clued in staff members started setting up champagne glasses, the first hint that the papers had won a Pulitzer Prize. This year, newspapers around the country broke out those glasses with one of the most widespread awarding of the prizes in years. Eleven newsrooms split the 13 prizes. No newsroom swept the awards, but one newsroom does stand out among the crowd: the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The “surprise win,” according to media blog Poynter, went to Paige St. John of the investigative team at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune “for her examination of weaknesses in the murky property-insurance system vital to Florida homeowners, providing handy data to assess insurer reliability and stirring regulatory action.”

The win, though, is not that surprising to the investigative team at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In fact, the group’s editor, Matt Doig, pretty much predicted the win in a journalism ad heard round the media world last month. The ad, full of tough-talk and promises of good old gumshoe journalism, went viral after it was posted to a listserv and blogged about by a Canadian journalist. Doig wrote in the ad:

“Every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: ‘I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.’ As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed  office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.”

Guess who came in as runner-up to Sarasota’s Pulitzer’s win? Yep, Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times, a finalist in Monday’s awards.

When asked how she felt by phone shortly after her win, St. John said, “I used to run cross country in high school. It’s like running one of those long races, and you creep up on the leader. He’s the senior and you’re a freshman. And you say, ‘Hi, Walt!’”

Doig said he wrote the advertisement to join he and St. John long before Pulitzer judging had started. Their team had made it to the finalist round the three prior years, though, so he was not being overly confident in his letter.

Doig and St. John credited the paper, their former editor, and their readers who wrote supportive e-mails to St. Page on a regular basis. “It’s like having bystanders on the side of the race clapping you on,” she said.

The job opening, meanwhile, is still open. Doig said after his job ad went viral, hundreds applied and they’ve got some pretty good candidates, but the Pulitzer win would be a “pretty good commercial for people curious about” the investigative team.

St. John said, “Do apply. Awards like this just further encourage the bad behavior that Matt wrote about.”

As for the loser in the race (well, perhaps loser is too strong a term; Doig points out, “He’s got three [Pulitzers], so I’m sure it goes down easy.”), Bogdanich wrote in an e-mail:

“Isn't that ironic — and in a strange and unexpected way — wonderful. How can anyone not root for a newspaper like that?  Well, I was kind of rooting for myself, but if I had to lose to anyone, I'm glad it was them.”

Here’s the full want ad:

We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed  office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal [redacted]. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

Send questions, or a resume/cover letter/links to clips to my e-mail address below. If you already have your dream job, please pass this along to someone whose skills you covet. Thanks.

Matthew Doig

P.S. Allow for a bit of hometurf pride: The Washington Post photographers also rock for their win for their heartbreaking work of the Haitian earthquake. And congrats to all the other great journalism work awarded this year!

By  |  05:22 PM ET, 04/18/2011

Tags:  Daily Catch

 
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