Interview with Pulitzer Panelist Roy Harris
Posted by sjbutterfield on September 12, 2008
Thursday afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down with Roy Harris, author of the book “Pulitzer’s Gold,” a history of the service Pulitzer, and a resident of my hometown of Hingham, MA. Harris penned the book as a tribute to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where his father was involved in winning four service Pulitzers.
Harris and I spoke in the always comfortably air conditioned and sedate lounge of Mark Twain Hall, where some “Cops” investigation blared away in the background on the prominently displayed television. Though we began our conversation by discussing interesting aspects of Harris’s personal career, the discussion quickly moved to his book and how it reflects why journalism, in Harris’s opinion, will endure.
“If you look at it, it’s not like journalism changes every 10 years,” Harris told me with enthusiasm. “You’ve still just got the reporter, supported by editors, even in the age of video and blogging.”
Harris said he believes journalism has also repeated itself, in a way, as he feels perhaps the watershed moments of journalism occurred in the early 1970s with the Watergate and Pentagon Paper scandals, while he believes that more recently the New York Times’ coverage of 9/11, and its series “A Nation Challenged” and the ensuing coverage of the woeful medical care at Walter Reed hospital were high marks for this decade.
Harris said he feels his book is not just relevant to journalism buffs. “If you look at each decade and what prizers were won, you get a great snapshot of American history,” he said. It’s hard not to agree, as Harris and I discussed everything from the first service Pulitzer, awarded to the Times for its coverage of World War I, to more recent events like the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Catholic priest scandal earlier this decade.
Harris and I did talk a little about his own exploits. His justification for why he never found himself receiving a Pulitzer; his biggest stories never materialized, another element he stressed one must accept in reporting. Harris mused on his time covering all of the potential problems with the 1984 olympics in Los Angeles, though, as it turned out, the games went off without a hitch and all of the chatter about traffic, smog, and terror was unfounded.
On the whole it’s fairly remarkable to step back and think that we all just brushed up against the most celebrated figures in journalism. Roy Harris was certainly approachable and warm.