Steve Geimann, Sigma Delta Chi Foundation President, (202) 624-1960
Julie Grimes, Associate Executive Director, (317) 927-8000, ext. 216
INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gerritt, an editorial writer for the Detroit Free Press, is the 2007 recipient of the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing presented annually by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists.
During the next year, Gerritt will examine the problems facing urban America and prescribe opportunities for our country and its leaders to confront these problems. In his application Gerritt wrote, “The United States has lacked a national urban agenda for 40 years. This series would show why it’s important to have one and outline what such an agenda should include.”
The Detroit Free Press will publish the series over the first nine months of 2008, with an eye toward shaping election-year debates on the state and national levels.
“This is a real honor and a tremendous opportunity to do some important work that otherwise wouldn’t get done,” said Gerritt, “I’m grateful to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, humbled to be associated with the Pulliam name, and proud to stand alongside some great journalists who were chosen in previous years.”
Gerritt becomes the 28th individual to receive the fellowship. He will be recognized Sept. 29 during the 2007 National Conference of Editorial Writers Convention in Kansas City, Mo. As the Pulliam Fellow, Gerritt will receive $75,000 from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation to research and prepare his work.
“Each year, the quality of the applicants and their project proposals seems to improve. This year, Jeff Gerritt’s project emerged as one of the most compelling among a number of great proposals,” said judge Paul McMasters. “The judges were most impressed by the depth of Jeff’s knowledge of the subject, his detailed plan for completing the project, and the immense national relevance of the issues he intends to explore.”
McMasters, who has been a member of the Pulliam Fellowship selection panel for more than a decade, is a former national president of both SPJ and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and recently retired as First Amendment Ombudsman for the Freedom Forum. Other judges were Bill Ketter, editor in chief and vice president of news for The Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company, and Neil Heinen, editorial director at WISC-TV and a Foundation Trustee of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.
”The importance of urban America to sustaining our democratic society has never been greater. Thus it is both timely and critical that this year’s Pulliam Fellowship go to a journalist like Jeff Gerritt who lives and understands the ferment in our large cities and wants to do something positive about it,” said Ketter. “Gerritt’s proposed in-depth study of the underlying causes – and how to fix them – of urban crime, poverty and inferior public education is in the best tradition of civic journalism that sets as its goal public awareness of growing social problems and the awful consequences of ignoring them.”
Jeff Gerritt earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University. His work has won dozens of awards, including The Batten Medal and Unity Award. The Associated Press, Detroit Press Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalists also have honored Jeff’s work. His reporting on the death of a mentally ill inmate was featured on “60 Minutes.”
Before becoming an editorial writer at the Free Press in 2000, Gerritt worked as an urban affairs reporter and editor for the paper, as a health and education reporter for USA TODAY, and a special projects reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. His journalism career started at the Oshkosh Northwestern in 1984.
Gerritt was selected from a competitive group of exceptional fellowship applicants.
“It is gratifying to see the quality of the research being proposed by talented and thoughtful editorial writers,” said Heinen. “It was extremely difficult to simply narrow the list to say nothing of pick a finalist. But Jeff Gerritt’s application and proposal were exceptional. Certainly his proposed examination of the problems of urban America and prescriptions for fixing those problems is a welcome recognition of one of the most important and vexing issues facing this country.”
The Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing was first offered in 1977. It is funded by a gift from Mrs. Eugene C. Pulliam, honoring the memory of her husband, one of the original members of the Society and former publisher of The Indianapolis Star, The Indianapolis News, The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette.
Founded in 1961, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that those who carry on the tradition of a free press are prepared for the challenge. Its goal is to support the educational programs of the Society of Professional Journalists and to serve the professional needs of journalists and students pursuing careers in journalism.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, visit www.spj.org.