April 18th, 2019

Capital Gazette’s Pulitzer citation: ‘rollercoaster moments’


By Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press on April 15, 2019.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The editor of the Capital Gazette of Maryland said Monday that his staff experienced some “rollercoaster moments” as it won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its own newsroom.

The Gazette, based in the Maryland state capital of Annapolis, published on schedule the day after the shooting attack that claimed five staffers’ lives. It was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history. The man charged in the attack had a longstanding grudge against the paper.

Rick Hutzell, editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said the paper had submitted entries for five categories, including a joint entry with The Baltimore Sun for breaking news. Although the Gazette didn’t win in any of those five categories, the Pulitzer board awarded it an extraordinary $100,000 grant to further its journalism.

Hutzell, nonetheless, said he thought the Pulitzer committee handled the decision admirably.

“Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” Hutzell said. “No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.”

He also said the paper was aware it would be facing stiff competition.

“It’s very difficult when you are reporting in some ways on yourself,” he said. “That’s not what we do. We’re behind the camera, not in front of it.”

Five newspaper employees – John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen – were killed in the attack last June 28. The shooting didn’t stop other staffers from covering it and putting out a newspaper the next day, with assistance from colleagues at The Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the same company.

Jarrod Ramos, the man charged in the newsroom shooting, had a history of harassing the newspaper’s journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The suit was dismissed as groundless.

County police arrested Ramos in the newsroom. They said he blocked an exit and then used a shotgun to blast his way through the entrance.

Ramos’ trial is scheduled to start in November. He pleaded not guilty last year to first-degree murder charges. April 29 is the deadline for attorneys to change his plea to not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

In October, the National Press Foundation announced that Hutzell won the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. The award was established in 1984 to recognize imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff.

In December, the newspaper’s staff was included by Time magazine among its 2018 Person of the Year honorees.

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