Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Pulitzer Prize in 2010... and a Gannett Award in 2011

Sanjay Bhatt, who's a staff writer with The Seattle Times in Washington State in the US, was a speaker at the Commits seminar 'Expressions 2005' in Bangalore. (He also happens to be my nephew.) On Monday, Sanjay and his colleagues at the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News coverage. Here he gives us a detailed account of how that coverage was put together:
It began at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, November 29, last year. A felon walked into a small town coffeehouse and assassinated four police officers sitting at a table. He then disappeared, with dogs, police, and the media on his trail. He surfaced hours later in a quiet Seattle neighborhood where, just weeks earlier, another police officer had been killed by an assassin. Everyone was on edge.

The Seattle Times newsroom mobilised and responded with unprecedented speed to this deadliest attack on law enforcement in state history: We were the first news outlet to report the name of the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, and the first to report that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had granted clemency years earlier to Clemmons, freeing him from prison.

We quickly produced in-depth profiles of the four deceased officers, who collectively left behind nine children. We used social media like Twitter, Google Wave, and Dipity to enrich our coverage and reach a wider audience. And we kept digging up scoops every hour and every day because of the deep expertise and sourcing of our reporting staff, eventually leading to a comprehensive profile of the killer and his tangled family ties.

Earlier this week, The Seattle Times received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News coverage. You can read all about it here.

There were many, many people who made our coverage so distinctive. So many people, in fact, that it's why the Pulitzer was actually awarded to no single individual but to the entire staff, including editors, researchers, web producers, photographers, video producers, graphic designers, page designers, copy editors, and company managers. We're lucky to work at a "newspaper" that has evolved into a multi-platform, cutting-edge news organisation.

Like others, I played a supporting role: In the cold pre-dawn air, I posted dispatches from the scene where police had surrounded a Seattle house in which they believed Clemmons was hiding. I constructed the Clemmons family tree from interviews and other people's notes. I made lots of phone calls, many fruitless, to Clemmons family members. Some of those calls eventually led to some in-depth interviews, which added context and nuance to our profile of Maurice Clemmons.

You'll notice on that page this important note to readers:

The story was reported by staff writers Ken Armstrong; Sanjay Bhatt; Nicole Brodeur; Jack Broom; Charles Brown; Jim Brunner; Mike Carter in Marianna and Little Rock, Ark.; Christine Clarridge; Sara Jean Green; Susan Kelleher; Jonathan Martin; Justin Mayo; Steve Miletich; Maureen O'Hagan; Nick Perry; Eric Pryne; Jennifer Sullivan; Craig Welch; Christine Willmsen; and news researchers Gene Balk, David Turim and Miyoko Wolf. Armstrong and O'Hagan were the lead writers.

Like so many newspapers, The Seattle Times was on the brink of bankruptcy and closure last year. Morale has been low. The Pulitzer really validates what we've been doing to create a print-online news company that serves the community with distinction.

Seattle Times newsroom staffers celebrate after receiving news that
the paper had won a Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News.
The Pulitzer is The Times' eighth. (Photo courtesy: The Seattle Times)

  • To read an earlier post about Sanjay Bhatt's work for The Seattle Times, go here.
  • UPDATE/June 15, 2011: Sanjay has won another award. He has been selected as the 2011 winner of the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. The Seattle Times submitted an enterprise story and a data visualisation Sanjay put together on the failure by the nation's biggest banks to honour their agreements with Treasury to modify eligible homeowner loans. This award comes with a $5,000 prize.
  • UPDATE/February 21, 2012: Watch an interview with Sanjay Bhatt on Seattle's local TV news channel here.


  1. Well presented, Ramesh.


  2. A meticulously compiled account of Sanjay's prominent works over the past 18 months. The TV interview took me by surprise as I didn't have an inkling about it.
    Mohan Bhatt (Appannu)

  3. Thanks Ramesh for putting together such a nice summary of Sanjay's accomplishments for the last couple years.


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