Celebrating 100 years of the Pulitzer Prize

By Chuck Zoeller

Honored. Humbled. Respectful. These are among the thoughts of AP journalists who captured our industry’s most prestigious award. We looked through our archives to see what a few had to say about what the award meant to them.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Under the wide and starry skies of his own homeland, America’s unknown dead from France sleeps tonight, a soldier home from the wars.

With those words, newsman Kirke L. Simpson won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1922 — AP’s first. His seven-part series on the interment of the Unknown Soldier of World War I was also the first Pulitzer credited to a news service rather than a newspaper. AP has since added another 20 Pulitzers in reporting categories — more than all other news services combined.

An original sheet of wire copy with one of the stories from the Kirke L. Simpson series on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that won AP’s first Pulitzer Prize in 1922. (AP Corporate Archive)

Humility over the award, coupled with respect for the subjects of their stories and photographs, is a common theme among AP’s Pulitzer-winning journalists.

Last month, AP received its 52nd Pulitzer, but it was the cooperative’s first gold medal in the public service category. The award was earned by four journalists — Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza — for their exposé of slave labor in the Southeast Asia commercial fishing industry.

Upon the announcement, McDowell credited “the (enslaved) men who were so brave to speak to us. They wanted their voice. They wanted the word to get out … it took tremendous courage.”

With some 2,000 slaves released as a result of the investigation, Mendoza added, “AP is uniquely positioned for this kind of project … and uniquely committed to the moral imperative of this kind of reporting.”

Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt, center, addresses staff in the newsroom after it was announced that the news organization had won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, Monday, April 18, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Chuck Zoeller)

Staffers Charlie Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, Randy Herschaft and Mendoza shared the 2000 Pulitzer for investigative reporting for their series on the mass killing of South Korean civilians by U.S. troops at No Gun Ri during the Korean War.

The team reflected, “We knew that the people who deserved recognition were the Korean survivors who courageously spoke out about the attack, and the U.S. veterans who told painful truths … 50 years after No Gun Ri.”

“There would have been no photograph if it weren’t for those Marines,” Joe Rosenthal said. His image of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima won the 1945 Pulitzer for photography and became the only photo to win the Pulitzer in the same year it was shot, by acclamation of the Pulitzer board.

Rosenthal’s iconic photo is one of AP’s 31 Pulitzers in photography categories, outdistancing all other news organizations, including newspapers.

More than 90 staffers have been recognized with Pulitzers — some individually, others as part of a team or staff entry. A few are two-time winners.

May 1944 issue of AP Inter-office magazine, featuring AP’s then latest Pulitzer Prize winners, Dan De Luce (international reporting) and Frank Filan (photography). (AP Corporate Archives)

Scott Applewhite and Stephan Savoia both received a pair of Pulitzers for feature photography. They were on the teams that won in 1993 for a portfolio on the 1992 presidential campaign and in 1999 for coverage of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Savoia clearly recalls the April 1993 day when the awards were announced at 3 p.m.:

“At 2:59, I was a working stiff; at 3:01, I was a Pulitzer Prize winner! But I was the same person!”

Applewhite credits Savoia with keeping the awards in perspective: “He has always wisely reminded us that none of us would be in this honored group without each other.”

MUSHA, RWANDA (AP) — Juliana Mukankwaya is the mother of six children and the murderer of two, the son and daughter of people she knew since she herself was a child.

So began a chilling story on the Rwandan genocide by Mark Fritz, 1995 Pulitzer winner for international reporting. In addition, AP photography from Rwanda won the feature photography award.

“This story absolutely needed to be shown to the outside world,” said photographer Jean-Marc Bouju. “This was a time before the Internet was widely used, and people … may not have known a million people were being slaughtered in this obscure African country.”

Bouju went on to play a key part on the six-person team that won the 1999 Pulitzer for spot news photography for a package on the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Photographer Brennan Linsley, another member of that embassy bombing team, cites the Vietnam work of 1973 spot news photography winner Nick Ut as an early influence on his career. Linsley was also part of the photo team that won in 2005 for coverage of the Iraq War.

Associated Press 1966 advertisement, featuring Pulitzer Prize winners Malcolm Browne (1964, international reporting), Horst Faas (1965, photography) and Peter Arnett (1966, international reporting). (AP Corporate Archives)

Few AP Pulitzer winners mention pride in connection with the award, but retired veteran political correspondent Walter Mears — 1977 winner in national reporting for the 1976 presidential campaign — said this in a 2008 interview:

“I have the Pulitzer framed, of course, but I also have an unabridged dictionary my dad gave me. He never understood what I did. After (the award), dad went out and bought the dictionary, and he wrote in the flyleaf, ‘With pride for which I cannot find the words,’ which I treasure.”

For a complete list of AP’s Pulitzer winners, visit ap.org/company/pulitzers.

Chuck Zoeller

Chuck is a special projects manager with corporate communications at The Associated Press.

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