Larry Craig

Idaho Statesman honored as Pulitzer finalist for breaking news

Kim O'Connor / Idaho Statesman

The Idaho Statesman was named a finalist Monday for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.

The Statesman's staff was recognized "for its tenacious coverage of the twists and turns in the scandal involving the state's senator, Larry Craig."

The Washington Post won the prize for its coverage of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. The New York Times was also named a finalist.

This is the first time the Statesman has been a finalist in its 144-year history. Newspapers owned by The McClatchy Company have won more than 50 Pulitzers, journalism's most prestigious prize.

"We are humbled and honored by this recognition, which is rare for a news organization our size," said Vicki Gowler, Statesman editor and vice president. "I am so proud of everyone in this newsroom for contributing to the quality of journalism that made us a finalist."

In October 2006, Statesman writer Dan Popkey began investigating decades-old rumors about Craig's sexuality. But even though several Idaho papers ran allegations that Craig was gay based on a blogger's unnamed sources, the Statesman did not publish either the rumors or the results of Popkey's investigations - until the Washington, D.C., publication Roll Call broke news last August of Craig's arrest and guilty plea in a sex sting in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.

"We invested the resources to pursue the truth, putting ourselves in position to give our readers the information they needed to make decisions about the senator," Gowler told the newsroom Monday after the prizes were announced. "We didn't rush to publish. We continued to investigate and develop the story as the news broke all around us."

Starting with Popkey's 3,800-word article on the first day, the Statesman led the nation's coverage on the breaking story both online and in print.

Much of the newsroom contributed over the first hectic days and weeks, and Popkey continued reporting the increasing allegations that Craig had pursued anonymous sex from men.

By the end of the year, Popkey was able to put the scandal in broad context, exploring the tales of two of Craig's fellow University of Idaho graduates. Both men saw their promising careers be destroyed by their homosexuality, and their stories helped show why men of Craig's generation would work so hard to keep that a secret.

"Although we are extremely proud to have our journalism recognized, we are not celebrating the troubles of one of Idaho's longest-tenured politicians," Statesman President and Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish said. "This was a difficult chapter in Idaho's history for us, as well as the state."

Parrish said she appreciated the support of the Statesman's community of readers and advertisers throughout the coverage.

The Pulitzers - given by Columbia University and named for 19th century newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer - have been awarded since 1917. Prizes are also awarded to novelists, poets, historians, biographers and more.

All newspapers, regardless of their circulation or staff size, are treated the same in the 15 journalism categories.

The Statesman, which distributes 62,228 papers on an average weekday and 83,083 papers on Sunday, was the smallest paper named as a finalist Monday.

The prizes are generally the purview of papers like the New York Times, which won two this year, and the Washington Post, which won six - the second-most wins for one paper in history.

In the Northwest, the two large papers in Seattle and The Oregonian in Portland have won awards in recent years.

Smaller nearby papers including the Great Falls, Mont., Tribune, and Willamette Week in Portland have won Pulitzers in this decade.

Since the Pulitzer board started naming finalists in 1980, no Idaho newspaper has been a finalist or a winner. Idaho writer Kim Barnes was a finalist in 1997 for biography.

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