LA Times wins Pulitzer for exposing big salaries
New York: The Los Angeles Times has won a Pulitzer Prize for public service for revealing that politicians in a small, working-class California city were paying themselves exorbitant salaries.
But for the first time in the Pulitzers` 95-year history, no award was given in the category of breaking news the bread-and-butter of daily journalism.
In a year when the big stories included the devastating earthquake in Haiti and the Gulf oil spill, the Pulitzer Board didn`t like the entries in the breaking news category enough to honour any of them with the most prestigious award in journalism.
The Los Angeles Times won for its series revealing that politicians in Bell, Calif, were drawing salaries well into six figures. The newspaper`s reporting that officials in the struggling city of 37,000 people were raising property taxes and other fees in part to cover the huge salaries led to arrests and the ouster of some of Bell`s top officials.
The Times won a second Pulitzer for feature photography, and The New York Times was awarded two Pulitzers for international reporting and for commentary.
"The real victors in this are the people of Bell, who were able to get rid of, there`s no other way to say it, an oppressive regime," said reporter Jeff Gottlieb, clutching a bottle of champagne before about 100 people in the newsroom.
Ruben Vives, another staff writer on the story, said: "At a time when people are saying newspapers are dying, I think this is the day when we can say, no, not really. We gave a small town, we gave them an opportunity to speak out. That`s what newspapers do."
One out of six people live in poverty in Bell, while its homeowners paid property taxes higher than those in Beverly Hills.
The series showed that the city manager was drawing a salary and benefits package of USD 1.5 million a year and that four of Bell`s part-time City Council members were pulling down annual salaries of USD 100,000.
The former city manager and seven other ex-officials are awaiting trial on fraud charges. And the entire City Council was thrown out of office in a recall election last month.
The Los Angeles Times has been hobbled by the troubles of its owner, Tribune Co, which has been operating under federal bankruptcy protection for the past two years. Tribune Co has been trying to shed most of the debt that it took on in an USD 8.2 billion buyout of the company engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell.
The Times has also gone through wrenching staff cutbacks before and after the bankruptcy filing, and other turmoil in the newsroom.