Later this month, on April 16, the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, arts and letters will be handed out and we wanted to give you the “scoop” on the announcement of the winners. This newspaper, again, will not be part of the finalists’ list.

Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Then again, we already feel like winners and we owe almost all of that honor to you, our readers. The Pulitzer Prizes are considered journalism’s highest honor and this is the 101st year of the awards administered by Columbia University, from an original endowment in 1917 by newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer.

We feel as if we are winners because we believe we work tirelessly to meet the highest standards of integrity, fairness and public service that exemplify each year’s Pulitzer medallion winners. We feel like winners because our local readers prize our journalism and our communities acknowledge us as a positive influence.

We feel especially honored because there are many places where our type of journalism and “real news” is not met with the same support. Pulitzer Board Chairman and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said as much during a recent Pulitzer board gathering. “This is a moment where journalism is under attack. The very concepts of fact and truth are under assault by a concerted and constant and very serious attempt to discredit and disqualify the voices of the news media.”

Robinson, a Pulitzer winner himself, praised the Columbia University awards for their “wonderful impact not just on journalism and arts and letters, but on our democracy.” He called on his audience of journalism leaders to do more in advocating for the freedom of the press and to more actively support working journalists everywhere — and not just during awards ceremonies.

This year, we were called by a subscriber who asked if she could nominate us for a Pulitzer. She said our many years of coverage of the financial struggles, leadership turnover and taxpayer frustrations surrounding Sebastopol’s Palm Drive Hospital were worthy of the top journalism award.

We politely talked her out of submitting the nomination for a couple reasons. First, we said our news coverage was not that extraordinary and that it was just elementary news reporting. We didn’t think Pulitzers should be awarded for “just showing up” or for basic fact-telling. 

More important, we argued, we’ve been covering the Palm Drive story now for over two decades. We don’t do it to win prizes, but because the public record must be told. We admit that reporting about the hospital’s bankruptcies and the resulting perils to public health and loss of a community institution has been a very tough assignment. But, instead of prize ribbons, we’d rather see a successful hospital in place.

There are less dramatic — but still crucial — stories throughout northern and western Sonoma County where we publish newspapers.

Last year a team of reporters from the East Bay Times in Oakland won a Pulitzer for breaking news coverage of the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse-studio fire. Across the country another news team at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia won an investigative Pulitzer for their coverage of their region’s opioid crisis.

In the 12 months since celebrating their Pulitzers, half the newsroom jobs at the East Bay Times have been eliminated and the Gazette-Mail was recently sold during a bankruptcy auction to a newly formed investment fund, resulting in the loss of 40 newspaper jobs.

So maybe you can understand how we feel like winners here in Sonoma County. We cover a collection of smaller communities that value straight facts, meaningful storytelling and celebrations of democracy and community spirit.

But we also agree with fellow journalist Robinson. These are times that require much more action and support for journalists who keep “showing up” and getting the story straight.

We would never turn down a Pulitzer Prize, but we’re just as pleased with our weekly accolades from our toughest critics — you.

— Rollie Atkinson

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