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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winners: Newspaper Deadline Reporting


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Sunday, July 12, 2009
SDX Award Winners: Newspaper Deadline Reporting

The New York Times and The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette

By Jim Poyser

Deadline Reporting (Circulation 100,000+)

WINNER: METROPOLITAN STAFF, THE NEW YORK TIMES

“The Spitzer Scandal”

Arguably, it could be considered the deadline story of the year: March 12, 2008, Eliot Spitzer became the first governor of New York in a century to resign in disgrace. He was driven from office by the revelation that he had patronized a high-end prostitution ring.

The New York Times broke the story, first on its Web site, then expanded and enhanced the story with exclusive stories, an array of videos, interactive presentations and other multimedia tools. The Times’ reporting popularized the nickname “Client 9,” the name given to Spitzer in an FBI affidavit.

It was after 9 on the night before Valentine’s Day when she finally arrived, a young brunette named Kristen. She was 5-foot-5, 105 pounds. Pretty and petite.

This was at the Mayflower, one of Washington’s choicer hotels. Her client for the evening, a return customer, had booked Room 871. The money he had promised to pay would cover all expenses: the room, the minibar, room service should they order it, the train ticket that had brought her from New York and, naturally, her time.

The reporting went beyond the investigation. It captured the debates within the governor’s inner circle, including his wife’s encouragement that he not resign.

Judges said, “The Spitzer story, made possible by excellent investigative reporting under deadline, poignantly articulated the contradictions within a powerful official who built his public identity as a moral crusader, even as he jeopardized it with inexplicably reckless behavior in his private life. The Times broke the story and drove the coverage. More than focusing on the tawdry details of Client 9’s involvement in the sex ring, the Times tweaked open its focus to raise a larger question of Spitzer’s recklessness as chief executive.”

This extraordinary fall from power caused Times personnel to muse on the “unsettling realities to ponder: the breathtaking betrayal by a gifted public servant, the tragedy of squandered promise, the endless human capacity for self-destruction.”

More online http://tinyurl.com/md5reh

Deadline Reporting (Circulation Less Than 100,000)

WINNER: STAFF, THE GAZETTE

“Great Flood of 2008”

In June of 2008, the Cedar River spread over 10 square miles in Cedar Rapids, inundating over a thousand businesses and over 5,000 homes, leaving people homeless – and knocking out some businesses for good. It was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history as Iowa City and other small towns in the region also suffered devastating floods.

Friday afternoon, firefighters rescued Mary Lou Conlan from her home at 420 Sixth St. SW, where she’d been marooned upstairs since Thursday morning.

Two firefighters — one holding her around the waist and the other carrying her feet — lifted her from a boat and set her down on First Avenue West. …

“It makes me sick,” she said quietly, her lower lip trembling. “Here I am, retired. I lost everything.”

Lyle Muller, senior editor of the Gazette at the time of the flood, said the most difficult aspect of the story was the “sheer magnitude of the disaster. The conditions were difficult, with no power, water or sewer in our Cedar Rapids headquarters.”

The Gazette’s Steve Buttry added: “We faced massive logistical challenges ... from access problems resulting from closed roads and traffic jams to personal danger as staff members waded in deep, filthy water, worked outdoors during lightning storms and rode in boats through city streets with unseen hazards lurking below the surface.”

Judges lauded the “depth and breadth of reporting, interest and enterprise. The Gazette’s staff showed a remarkably high degree of professionalism and service to the community in pulling together such a package under such circumstances. The Gazette certainly showed how vital a community paper, and the professional journalists staffing it, can be in times of crisis — even during these bleak days for daily print journalism.”

Buttry said: “The outpouring of appreciation from our community was the most gratifying. Power, water and sewer systems were at or near failure. Roads were closed. But the Gazette delivered important news and useful information by text, Web and print.”

Lyle Muller said the coverage proved, “We could be counted on.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/9vxchb

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