Daily Breeze managing editor: 'We are stunned'
When the Daily Breeze won a journalism award earlier this year, someone tipped staffers off, telling them to watch the ceremony. They gathered together and celebrated the announcement over some doughnuts.
This morning, when the Pulitzer Prizes were being announced, things were different, said Toni Sciacqua, the managing editor at the newspaper. The staff got no such tip, and no one had high hopes for a win. Still, she said, they were each surreptitiously watching the announcement on their individual computers, not wanting to appear too hopeful.
Sciacqua was sitting in her office next to the newsroom when she got the first indicator that the paper had won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. She heard a scream from Frank Suraci, the city editor, who exclaimed "Oh my god, are you kidding me?" as the announcement was made.
"Right now, I think we are stunned," Sciacqua said. "But elated."
It's the first Pulitzer win for the Daily Breeze, a 63,000-circulation newspaper in Torrance, California that belongs to the Los Angeles News Group newspaper chain. The newspaper, which was founded in 1894 by former druggist S.D. "Doc" Barkley, is relatively small — it has a team of seven local news reporters on the city desk and shares coverage with other newspapers in Los Angeles News Group.
But the small paper landed a big investigation (comprised of more than 50 articles) after reporters Rob Kuznia and Rebecca Kimitch began digging into administrator compensation records at Centinela Valley Union High School District. The paper's dogged reporting resulted in the removal of district superintendent Jose Fernandez from his position and prompted new state legislation to prevent excessive compensation, according to The Daily Breeze.
In its citation, The Pulitzer Prizes lauded the Breeze's investigation into the "widespread corruption" of the school district, noting the "impressive use of the paper’s website." The finalists were the Chicago Tribune and the Tulsa World.
The investigation came together gradually, and staffers had no idea that the stories were going to be fodder for an awards submission, Sciacqua said. There was no tipster for the stories — they initially arose from Kuznia's coverage of the education beat. Kimitch joined the investigation as it progressed, and Suraci edited and shaped the coverage as it came across his desk.
Sciacqua says the Breeze's Pulitzer win highlights the importance of local newsrooms, who unearth important stories that would otherwise go unnoticed.
"There’s no substitute for that," Sciacqua said. "Nobody parachutes in and finds that kind of thing. You have to be embedded in the community.”