The Seattle Times won its eighth Pulitzer Prize in the newspaper's 114-year history on Monday, earning the top prize in journalism for coverage of the shocking murders of four Lakewood police officers.
The Seattle Times won its eighth Pulitzer Prize in the newspaper’s 114-year history on Monday, earning the top prize in journalism for coverage of the shocking murders of four Lakewood police officers.
The Pulitzer committee, in awarding the Breaking News prize, cited The Seattle Times’ “comprehensive coverage, in print and online,” of the killings — the worst act of violence against law enforcement in state history — and the 40-hour manhunt for the shooter, Maurice Clemmons.
At 8:15 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 29, Clemmons shot and killed Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards as they sat in a Parkland coffee shop preparing for their shifts.
Clemmons fled, prompting a frantic police search in Tacoma and Seattle until 2:35 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, when he was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer.
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The Times’ staff mobilized to cover the breaking news, to profile the slain officers, and to investigate Clemmons’ criminal record in Washington and Arkansas, his home state, and his release from Pierce County Jail.
In covering the crime and its aftermath, The Times supplemented print and online coverage with experimental use of digital tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Dipity and Google Wave.
David Boardman, Seattle Times executive editor, said he was proud of the “range of things we did well. In doing so, it really underscored the value and importance of a locally owned newspaper that is rooted in its community and is able and willing to dedicate its resources to public service.”
“Even with the adrenaline rush of covering a major breaking story, we kept front and center the sentiment that an attack on police officers is an attack on the community,” Boardman said. “It was a horrible, traumatic event for the police officers and the families, and it was deeply traumatic for the entire region.”
When the Pulitzer was announced, teary-eyed staffers hugged one another in celebration, but the mood was tempered by the tragedy of the story.
The Pulitzer committee, based at Columbia University in New York, on Monday also cited work by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The committee named the Journal a finalist in Explanatory Reporting for its “meticulous examination of the collapse of Washington Mutual, the biggest bank failure in U.S. history, plumbing causes and raising troubling questions about federal regulation.”
When news of the officers’ slayings in Parkland broke on Nov. 29, The Times had one reporter and one editor on duty that morning — the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
As dozens of reporters, photographers and editors began to arrive at the newsroom, the paper soon posted on its Web site a video interview with a witness.
By afternoon, the newspaper had identified Clemmons as the prime suspect, before police released his name to the public. The Times was first to report that Clemmons was granted clemency in 2000 by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, putting a national political spotlight on his decision.
Meanwhile, reporters wrote profiles of Renninger, Griswold, Owens and Richards, describing their careers and family lives. The officers are survived by nine children.
Over the next two days, the newsroom was busy around the clock as the manhunt for Clemmons turned to the Leschi neighborhood, where Clemmons was believed to be hiding, and then to other Seattle-area neighborhoods.
As soon as Clemmons was named the prime suspect, The Times began collecting and synthesizing mountains of public records on his criminal history, his real estate and his parole in Washington. A Times reporter was sent to Clemmons’ hometown of Marianna, Ark.
He had been released on bond from the Pierce County Jail six days before the murders despite concerns about his mental state, and pending charges for child rape and for assaulting Pierce County sheriff’s deputies in May 2009.
Reporting also described a tangled procedural history between Arkansas and Washington corrections officials. Washington had tried to send Clemmons home.
“The amazing element was the degree to which investigative and watchdog journalism is so ingrained in our culture of reporting,” Boardman said.
That work culminated in a 3,700-word profile of Clemmons on the following Sunday.
Mark Fefer, editor of Seattle Weekly, called The Times’ coverage “an inspiring bit of journalism.”
“The speed with which The Times was able to do it, and the details they unearthed were very compelling and seemed like testimony to what well-trained, well-equipped journalists can do when faced with a difficult and shocking breaking news story,” he said.
The Times previously won Pulitzer Prizes for national and local reporting and photography. The newspaper most recently won two Pulitzers in 1997, for Investigative Reporting into the federal Indian housing program, and for Beat Reporting on flaws in the rudder of the Boeing 737.
The Times newsroom since has shrunk by 40 percent from its peak staff level, due to declining revenue from advertising.
The company remained in serious peril even after the Post-Intelligencer, The Times’ print rival, ended its print edition on March 17, 2009.
In February, The Seattle Times Co. announced it had restructured debt and “is here to stay.”