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The Pullet Surprise

   Some people pronounce it "Pull-it-zer." Some say "Pew-lit-zer."

   In my house, we say, "Missed it by that much."

   One afternoon in mid-April of 1998, I read the list of Pulitzer Prize winners on the AP wire, saw that I was not among them, and went off to my moonlighting job arguing on the radio. When I returned to the offices of The Salina Journal a couple of hours later, there was a message on my voice mail from the vice president Pulitzer_logo_400_100412 of the newspaper chain I worked for, mumbling something about me being a finalist for the Pulitzer in editorial writing and what was that all about.
   Turned out I was.
   They don't do the Pulitzers the way they do the Oscars. First, they announce the winner. Then, a few minutes later, the names of the other finalists [usually two of them] dribble out as well.
   I had been bold enough to enter my work -- 10 editorials on different local subjects -- into the World's Biggest Journalism Award when I noticed that some recent winners in that category were, like me, editorial page editors who ran one-man shops at community newspapers. [Little newspapers do win other categories, too.] Their work, like mine, was not a series on a single topic that forced change, but a variety of essays that, depending on the topic, were sad, happy, funny, cutting, sarcastic or philosophical. [No, I don't have a link. I don't even have the editorials.]
   The next morning, I was the lead story in my own newspaper. A little more than three years later, about two weeks after 9/11 and in fear of a looming recession, they declared the position of a full-time editorial page editor a luxury and fired me. I will always wonder if they'd have done that if I'd won. Probably.
   The winner that year, Bernard L. Stein, was another example of such an essayist. His paper (since sold) was The Riverdale Press, a family-owned weekly that served a relatively small neighborhood of New York City. His editorials were also a variety of writings. They were good. They deserved to win. [And it didn't hurt that one of his causes was free speech, always a Pulitzer favorite, and that his office was firebomed by someone apparently upset about Stein's editorial defense of Salman Rushdie and his novel "The Satanic Verses." Nobody was hurt, but it was really frightening. That's the kind of thing that really earns you bonus points from your fellow journalists.]

   The 2010 Pulitzers were announced Monday, which means I would have been thinking about all that   Cnelson anyway.
   But the wonderful news is that one of the three writers who is sharing this year's Pulitzer for editorial writing -- Colleen McCain Nelson [right] -- had been a high school intern for me in Salina back in the day. Now she's on the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News, and among a team that has been pounding away -- the Pulitzer citation calls them "relentless" --  writing editorials on the horrible economic and infrastructure differences between the wealthier North Dallas and the often poverty-stricken South Dallas. So I'm going to take a little credit for getting her career started.

   Other Pulitzer winners that matter [more] to readers of The Buffalo News are:
- Sarah Kaufman, of The Washington Post, a former writer at The Buffalo News, for Criticism
Kathleen Parker, a Post columnist whose work also appears in The News, for Commentary. [A choice that has stirred up some dissent.]
- Gene Weingarten, another Post writer who has recently been added to our Opinion section, for Feature Writing.
   Weingarten won this year for an article on parents whose children died when they were accidentally left behind in a car. He won the same prize a few years ago for a feature that is about as different as you can get -- staging, and writing about, a stunt where world-class violinist Joshua Bell stood in a Washington, D.C., Metrorail station, looking like any other street musician but playing like a dream, and watching as most passers-by ignored him completely.
   Viz:  

Hmmmm. Maybe if I wander over to the train station and start humming...

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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