St. Petersburg Times Wins Pulitzer Prizes for National Reporting, Feature Writing

By Julie Moos and Steve Myers

St. Petersburg Times journalists won two Pulitzer Prizes today, one for “The Girl in the Window,” Lane DeGregory’s narrative describing the journey of a feral child from a moldy mattress in a filthy room to a loving family that gave her bubble baths, and the other for PolitiFact, a nationally-recognized Web site that combines investigative reporting and computer programming to fact-check politicians’ claims. These are the Poynter-owned paper’s seventh and eighth Pulitzers.

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The projects represent two different forms of journalism: long-form narrative, which has been recognized for its powerful, engaging storytelling, and data-centered accountability reporting, which has emerged as a new form of online journalism.

DeGregory broke away from the champagne and congratulations to speak briefly about what the two awards say about the current state of journalism:

Narrative Wins Public Praise, Pulitzer for Times

Just after “The Girl in the Window” was published, DeGregory and photojournalist Melissa Lyttle spoke with Poynter Online’s Steve Myers about the project. They discussed how they:

  • Earned a family’s trust and gained access to its most intimate moments
  • Collaborated with and depended on a team throughout the newsroom and company
  • Balanced unfettered access with compassion for the story’s subjects

In the interview, DeGregory and Lyttle explored multiple aspects of the story, from its origins to its presentation online. Here’s a quick index to different parts of the interview:

Story Idea | Building Relationships | Collaboration | Photography | Reporting | Writing | Online Presentation | Structure | Print Presentation | Emotional Consequences | Accountability | Theme

You can listen to the hourlong interview with DeGregory and Lyttle here.

After reading the story, Roy Peter Clark said it inspired two crucial questions for those who care about journalism:

  1. Is journalism losing its capacity to produce these kinds of stories, and at what cost?
  2. Is there a growing appetite for such stories, or a shrinking one?

Millions read the story, more than a thousand commented on it online, and hundreds responded by e-mail.

Last month, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” featured the story’s subject in a show titled “The Little Girl Found Living Like an Animal.” The family has established a Web site for people who want to follow Danielle’s progress. The site highlights Lyttle’s photos.

Lyttle has been at the St. Pete Times since 2005. DeGregory joined the Times in 2000 from The Virginian-Pilot.

PolitiFact Win Recognizes Power of Online Journalism

Launched in 2007, PolitiFact‘s distinctive “Truth-O-Meter” ruled on the accuracy of hundreds of statements made by politicians (and even anonymous chain e-mails) during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The site was relaunched in January with a broader focus on statements made by pundits and opinion makers and a new “Obameter” to track President Barack Obama’s progress on 500 campaign promises.

The Web site has been well-regarded and before being awarded the Pulitzer, it won a National Press Foundation award for Excellence in Online Journalism. It has also received a Knight Batten Award for Innovation, a NAA Digital Edge Award for Best Overall News Site and was one of PC World‘s “100 Incredibly Useful and Interesting Web Sites.”

Here’s how site developer Matt Waite describes PolitiFact’s beginnings:

“PolitiFact was born when St. Petersburg Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair called me in very late May with an idea he had. He wanted to take the ‘truth squad’ idea and expand it. And he wondered if we could somehow use databases with this idea. He didn’t know how we could do that, just that we should, and that was why he was calling me. I was knee deep in learning Django, the rapid development Web framework, and immediately knew we could use Django to make this happen. Based on our conversation, I quick sketched out a series of related tables — models in Django parlance — and PolitiFact was born.”

PolitiFact, which has its own theme song, is one of the first Web sites to be honored by the Pulitzers, which began considering online work in 2006. PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair spoke briefly about what that recognition means:

Adair has been Washington bureau chief since 2004. He came to the Times in 1989. Waite joined the Times in 2000 as a general assignment reporter.

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