Newspaper staff in a Maryland town today told of their “rollercoaster” of emotions after they were awarded a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its own newsroom.
Five colleagues died when gunman Jarrod Ramos, 39, who had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper, allegedly burst into the office and opened fire in June 2018.
“Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell said.
“No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.”
Colleagues hugged each other in “stone silent” memory of John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen as the citation was announced last night.
The Pulitzer board awarded a citation with an extraordinary $100,000 (£76,300) grant to further its journalism after putting out a newspaper the day after the massacre, along with sister title The Baltimore Sun, with the headline “5 shot dead at The Capital”.
Judges praised journalists, staff and the editorial board for an “unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief”.
Mr Hutzell said: “Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings. No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.
“It’s very difficult when you are reporting in some ways on yourself. That’s not what we do. We’re behind the camera, not in front of it.”
Joshua McKerrow, a photographer for the newspaper, said the staff remained “stone silent” for about a minute after learning about the award.
Reporter Chase Cook said: “It’s definitely bittersweet. Since it’s so connected to something so tragic, there was no euphoric pop-off of excitement.”
Ramos pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and his trial is scheduled to start in November.
Ramos had a history of harassing the newspaper’s journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012 alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case. The suit was dismissed as groundless.
Meanwhile the South Florida Sun Sentinel received the Pulitzer in public service for its coverage of the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and for detailing the shortcomings in school discipline and security that contributed to the carnage.
Other Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to the New York Times for reporting of President Donald Trump’s finances, and the Wall Street Journal, which received the national reporting prize for uncovering the US president’s secret payoffs to two alleged former mistresses during his campaign.
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