It’s been a long time since Joseph Pulitzer’s pride and joy won one of journalism’s most coveted prizes named for him. Â 1989 was the last time, and for a photograph taken by a free-lancer of a fire. Â In 2015, the photography staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brought home the Pulitzer for breaking news coverage of the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri from last August until winter.
With a staff of less than 12 photographers and editors, Post-Dispatch images from the armed confrontations, and community sadness in Ferguson went viral as we say, and told the story of just what was happening in North St. Louis County. Â In some ways, the work stirred animosity and agitated an already tense situation, but no one can deny the photography is compelling. Â 19 of the thousands of photographs snapped were assembled for consideration by the board overseeing the Pulitzers. Â They included these familiar images.
In all seriousness, despite the subject matter and the attention that Ferguson did not deserve nor did we in St. Louis really want, from and artistic perspective, the composition of the moments captured is stunning. Â These pictures are worth far more than a thousand words. Â What makes it more special is that the staff at the Post-Dispatch was trying not to get their hopes up.
The news staff gathered around a television screen at 2 p.m., when Pulitzer Prize administrator Mike Pride announced the winners. … The mood in the newsroom became tense as Pride read through the awards for reporting.
When he started into the next-to-last journalism category, breaking news photography, and uttered the words “… to the St. Louis..,” the room erupted in joy. Photographers hugged each other to the cheers of their colleagues.
It’s not writing or reporting that won the prize, but a medium that communicates without words. Â Interestingly enough, Joseph Pulitzer, for all his love of the written language would have been proud of that.
Back in this writer’s university days, one class took a field trip to the Post-Dispatch building in north downtown St. Louis. Â (It helped that the teacher was a reporter.) Â Proudly hanging on the walls are the great innovations that the paper was the first to institute over the years. Â In the 1970’s it was the first to convert from hot type to cold type (computer based type setting) and go to color photography. Â That does not mean that the paper is anywhere close to what it once was, just that there is a lot of history there.
Lynden Steele, the director of photography for the Post-Dispatch, told [The New York Times’] Lens news of the win left him with a â€œsurreal feeling,â€ surpassed only by the pride he felt in his staff, who relied on their knowledge of the area to produce powerful work day after day.
â€œThe staff are experts at Saint Louis,â€ Mr Steele said in a phone interview shortly after the announcement of the prize. â€œMost of the staff have been here more than a decade. They put all that knowledge to use covering this. They were dogged, committed and used their thorough knowledge of the area, it resources and sources and how to talk and treat people well.â€
As a person who has worked with Post-Dispatch photographers over the years, this writer will attest to that. Â The photographers are quality people even if we don’t agree politically. Â Despite wishing that the subject matter was something else – anything else – congratulations to the photography staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for their work and Pulitzer, and to the editors who made it to the finals of another category.
Yes, we in St. Louis not so affectionately call the daily the St. Louis Post-Disgrace. Â Other than the sports page and the obituaries, there generally isn’t much worth reading.