Times-Picayune’s McCarthy wins Mike Berger Award

Press release

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism Announces 2009 Berger Award Winner for Best Human-Interest Reporting

New York, NY (May 7, 2009)—Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism today announced that Brendan McCarthy, a reporter at New Orleans Time-Picayune, has been named the winner of the 2009 Mike Berger Award. The prize, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is annually conferred by the Journalism School for the best in-depth, human-interest reporting.

McCarthy’s eight-part series, “Homicide 37,” chronicled the murder of 17-year-old Michael Zarders and the aftermath of this tragedy in New Orleans. In the end, the grand jury failed to indict anyone in the killing, and “Homicide 37″ was not solved. Each installment ran approximately 700 words and read like a detective novel, capturing the attention of its readers. McCarthy and photographer Michael DeMocker spent four months on the series, which also benefited from a strong interactive presentation on nola.com.

McCarthy’s work stood out from the rest of this year’s submissions. The series, through the strong development of scene and various characters, evoked Berger’s own style of writing. Like McCarthy, Meyer Berger would have also recognized the human side of this difficult story that deeply affected the family, the investigating officers who tried so hard to solve the murder, and ultimately the city of New Orleans.

“This award, which honors exceptional writing about the lives of everyday people, acknowledges the relevance and significance of local reporting and how that reporting affects a community,” said Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Journalism School.

While the judges were impressed overall with the quality and range of work submitted, they felt that Brendan McCarthy’s series strongly embraced the quality and spirit of Meyer Berger’s Pulitzer Prize work at The New York Times, and his devotion to the journalistic detail, description and narrative that made his human-interest reporting on the city so special.

In addition to McCarthy’s winning series, the judges, a panel of three professors, including Sandy Padwe, Andie Tucher and Sheila Coronel, also picked two finalists for their fine work that also mirrored Berger’s work. Those finalists were Rita Giordano of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her work on high school dropouts and their struggle to eventually graduate, and Tom Rivers of the Daily News of Batavia, NY, who, through a first-person view, wrote about seasonal farm workers and their myriad problems.

The award will be presented to McCarthy along with a $1,000 honorarium, on Tuesday, May 19 during the school’s annual Journalism Day celebration.

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