The founder of a small Florida newspaper died days before its first Pulitzer win

April 18, 2016

There were no big celebrations Monday in the Charlotte Sun’s newsroom, no champagne, no live-tweeting.

It was the day of the first Pulitzer win for the Florida newspaper and for Editor John Hackworth and former editorial page editor Brian Gleason. But it was also the day print readers learned of the death of the newspaper’s founder, Derek Dunn-Rankin.

Dunn-Rankin, who was 88, died at his home over the weekend. He was a lifelong newspaper man.

Dunn-Rankin’s career in newspapers began at age 11, when he became a delivery boy for the Miami News. He later became editor of the student paper at Rollins College and, in his senior year, was sports editor of the Sanford Daily Herald.

“It’s pretty subdued,” Hackworth said. “This was his dream, and he wasn’t here to see it, so it’s pretty tough on us all.”

The Charlotte Sun was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category in 2005.

This year, Hackworth and Gleason won for a series of editorials calling for an investigation into the death of an inmate at Charlotte Correctional Institute. Finalists for the prize include The Baltimore Sun and The New York Times. In Port Charlotte, Dunn-Rankin was a big supporter of the paper’s push into holding the correctional officers accountable, Hackworth said. His son, David, was the publisher at the time and a driving force, too.

Hackworth said work by the Miami Herald’s Julie Brown inspired his paper to look into their own prison deaths. Adam Kreger reported the story for the newspaper, and cartoonist Ron Bates offered art throughout the series.

As a result of their work, the warden of the prison was moved and 10 of the guards involved no longer work there, Hackworth said, “so we feel like we had an impact.”

It wasn’t a day for big celebrations, but Hackworth did share what it would have looked like if Dunn-Rankin could have been there.

“I think he would have shook everyone’s hand,” Hackworth said, “not just mine but everyone who was involved.”

He would have told them that this kind of work is what small newspapers can do if they’re passionate about journalism, Hackworth added, “and you should never think that you’re too small to do this kind of journalism.”

So far, the Charlotte Sun has only tweeted once about the win.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Brian Gleason’s name after Gleason was added to the prize.