The Robin Goldstein Award was presented the other day. You may not have heard of it, or of Robin Goldstein. She didn't gain fame or power here. She didn't have the time, or the nature, to go looking for it.
She was a regional reporter, one of some 600 men and women who write news of interest to hometown readers -- how the budget will hit the senior center, how lobbyists court your congressman, how the feds found toxics in the local dump. These reporters don't tend to bring down presidents, win glitzy awards, have TV series based on them.
No, they tend to work in cramped, one-person bureaus, fight to get calls returned, keep daily tabs on multiple hearings, briefings and regulations, write 10 or more stories a week, act as their own couriers and janitors.
Most arrive here as hometown stars, only to labor in obscurity. Goldstein, for one, was a legend in New Jersey for covering the Mafia. She had extensive sources inside the powerful Genovese crime family.
When Genovese family members faced murder charges, they subpoenaed letters a rival hit man had sent Goldstein. She refused to turn them over and was threatened with jail for contempt. She appealed, and won a state supreme court case that is a landmark of reporters' confidentiality rights. She was then 25.
The mobsters apparently lamented putting her at risk of prison. Their lawyer even apologized: "Robin, if they make you go to jail, I'll go with you."
"There won't be room," she responded. "My mother's coming."
"Did you think I was going to let her go to jail alone?" asked Rhoda Goldstein, a New Jersey social worker.
And oh, by the way, Robin Goldstein had cancer. I say it that way because if you didn't know her well, and I was lucky enough to be one who did, you wouldn't have known until the end that she faced obstacles others didn't.
The cancer was found in 1983, and she fought it with flair, scarcely letting it cramp her work or life. On days she had chemotherapy, she lay on the living room couch and interviewed by phone. If she got bad results from a CAT scan, she went back to work, finished her story and carried on. Once she had surgery on Monday, and insisted she and her husband go to a friend's dance party that Saturday.
Weeks before her death, too weak to leave home, she stayed up late watching President Bush's first budget address and calling local lawmakers for reaction. Her paper, the Orange County (Calif.) Register, spread the story across Page 1.
Robin Goldstein died in March 1989 at age 34. Soon after, her friends decided to create an award to honor her breed of reporters -- the ones uncelebrated here, but counted on by people across the country to explain how Washington affects their lives in ways the national media can't.
Her friends wanted to find someone every year who, like Robin Goldstein, churned out 10 or 15 stories a week on hearings and news conferences, and also went beyond the dished-out news to produce distinguished reports and graceful writing.
Lee Davidson, 32, Washington correspondent for the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, was named this week as winner of the first Robin Goldstein Award, an annual $1,000 prize of the National Press Club, which appoints the judges and presents the award. He had exposed nerve gas leaks in Utah military installations, covered Bush's inauguration on deadline in 20 minutes and detailed the liberal alliances of Utah conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) long before big-time political reporters noticed them and much more.
The day after winning the award, Davidson arrived at 6:30 a.m. at his office, an unused kitchen in a Capitol Hill think tank -- the finest quarters the paper could spring for. By 9:30, he had filed three stories for the first edition, including a short item on a Salt Lake City school that was honored at the White House, stopped in at hearings on a Utah water project and on the Senate confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee David Souter and buttonholed Hatch in a hallway for an interview for a daily story and a column.
He also was making final arrangements for the release of 1,500 pages of FBI records for an investigative article on a polygamous Utah sect leader, documents he is obtaining under a Freedom of Information Act request he has pursued for three years. He stores his FOIA records in the kitchen's cabinets.
"It's my Harry Truman Memorial Office," he said. "If I can't stand the heat, I get out of the kitchen."
Robin Goldstein's husband, John Mintz, an editor at The Washington Post, presented the award to Davidson at a press club banquet. He told of Robin Goldstein's life: her trials, her triumphs, her undying passion for reporting, whatever the hurdles.
Rhoda Goldstein and her husband, Raymond, embraced Mintz afterwards. Then, as only a mother-in-law can, Rhoda Goldstein deadpanned: "You forgot something important. You didn't say that her first office was the extra bedroom in your apartment."