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Denver dailies win Pulitzer Prizes

News receives award for photo coverage of Columbine tragedy; Post cited for reporting

By Sue Lindsay
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Denver's two daily newspapers won journalism's highest honor Monday, each garnering a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the tragedy at Columbine High School.

The Denver Rocky Mountain News won for spot news photography.

The Denver Post won for breaking news reporting.

It was a bittersweet victory for both papers.

Reporters, photographers and editors hugged each other and offered congratulations, but the moment was tinged with sadness.

"I am proud that this newsroom and newspaper has been recognized, but I sure wish we never had to get it this way," said News Editor John Temple.

He choked back tears as he addressed his staff, gathered in the middle of the newsroom after the 1 p.m. announcement from New York.

The Pulitzer judges honored the News' photographers and photo editors for their "powerful collection of emotional images taken after the student shootings at Columbine High School."

There are few stories that could have been more difficult to cover, Temple said.

"This is supposed to be a happy day," he said. "It's this newspaper's first Pulizer Prize. It's my first Pulitzer Prize as an editor. But these prizes pale when you think of what we covered. You just think of the magnitude of this tragedy and those people whose lives were lost on that day.

"People in this newsroom are wearing heavy hearts. The reality is that 15 people lost their lives that day. That is what's important about Columbine, not that either paper won a Pulitzer.

"But if we do our job well, we can make a tremendous contribution to the community. Our job is to tell the story and help people understand. I am so proud of what we did."

Alan Horton, senior vice president of newspapers for E.W. Scripps Inc., the paper's Cincinnati-based parent company, applauded the paper's efforts.

"I believe the Rocky served Denver area readers with the quality and sensitivity of its Columbine coverage better than any newspaper in America ever has managed to achieve on any similar tragedy," he said.

The staff at the Post, which has now won four Pulitzers, felt conflicted as well, said Post Editor Glenn Guzzo.

"You'd never want something like this to happen, but when it does, there are many needs, and one of them is for swift, accurate information," he said. "The terror of the unknown is worse for many people than coping with terrible facts."

Both newspapers are donating their $5,000 awards to the HOPE committee, a group of families of Columbine victims who are raising money to build a new library at Columbine.

"I have never been prouder of any group that I've ever worked with," said News Publisher Larry Strutton. "I was proud of the professional and compassionate way we handled the story."

Photography director Janet Reeves said the photographers and editors pulled together as a team.

'There was no ego. There was no agenda," she said. "They were part of the community covering this story that was so unreal."

The News entered its Columbine coverage in the breaking news reporting category won by the Post.

The judges lauded the Post staff "for its clear and balanced coverage of the student massacre at Columbine High School."

"We knew both newspapers did an excellent job covering this story," Temple said.

It's rare for two newspapers in the same city to win prizes for the same news event, said Seymour Topping, Pulitzer committee board member and administrator.

The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded each year for distinguished achievement in journalism, literature, drama and music. The journalism prizes are awarded in 14 categories. They were established by Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper publisher who was founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The prizes are awarded each April by Columbia University on the recommendation of the 19-member Pulitzer Prize Board.

Contact Sue Lindsay at (303) 892-5181 or lindsays@RockyMountainNews.com.

Staff writers Kris Hudson and M.E. Sprengelmeyer contributed to this report.

April 11, 2000