Beat Reporting That Helps Win Pulitzer Prizes


The shocking news broke a year ago last month: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been paying an escort service for prostitution. It wasn't a government announcement that disclosed the news but rather the dogged work of beat journalists at the New York Times including William Rashbaum, who is a board member of Criminal Justice Journalists, co-partner in this Web site.

Times executive editor Bill Keller paid tribute to Rashbaum when the reporting team won the Pulitzer Prize this week, telling the Washington Post, “He has sources everywhere. [] As much as I love the idea of citizen journalism, it takes time to grow people like that.”
The story serves as a powerful reminder about the importance of beat reporting on criminal justice as well as many other significant subjects. Many stories seen on this site and elsewhere are written or broadcast only because trained journalists pursue them. The cutbacks and layoffs that are proliferating in the news business mean that fewer complex stories are covered beyond the daily diet of crimes.
It is not clear when the Spitzer scandal would have become public had it not been for Rashbaum and his associates. The story came out in part because Times reporters noticed on a Thursday that what appeared to be a routine case involving an escort service was being handled by high-level public corruption prosecutors and FBI agents. Aggressive reporting over the weekend led to publication of the Spitzer story the next Monday and his resignation two days later. Given the governor's prominence, the news probably would have leaked eventually, but the Times' publication dictated the timing. The paper still is pursuing the story, seeking a court order to obtain investigators' statements that led to authorizing wire taps in the case.
Newspapers like the Times enjoy considerable resources to report difficult stories. It doesn't take a newspaper giant like the Times to do high-quality work. Another Pulitzer this week was won by the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Az., for reporting on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's controversial immigration enforcement. Good reporting like the New York and Arizona examples cited here is evident nationwide. Crime & Justice News offers a dozen of the best examples on this site daily. The stories aren't produced automatically; in fact they rarely appear in some cities. Criminal justice professionals reading should suggest stories to local and national journalists, who may not have the knowledge or time to report on stories of great public importance.

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