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Pulitzer Prize winners discuss the stories behind the stories

Thursday, September 11, 2008 | 7:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In a seminar Thursday, Seymour Topping attempted to answer the question "How can I win a Pulitzer Prize?" The former managing editor of The New York Times was the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes from 1992 to 2002.

An attentive crowd listened as he suggested a few keys to winning the prize that honors journalistic excellence: great reporting, terrific writing and a little bit of luck.

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Other members of the discussion panel, including Jacqui Banaszynski, Steve Fainaru, James V. Grimaldi, Jeff Leen, Mike McGraw and James B. Steele, described their personal experiences in journalism and what led them to win one or multiple Pulitzer Prizes. The eighth panelist, Roy J. Harris Jr., has not received a Pulitzer but discussed the findings he made while writing a book about the prestigious award.

Banaszynski divulged her secret to winning a Pulitzer: a love story. She chose to write a piece that followed the personal struggles through life and death of a gay couple living on a farm. The piece, "AIDS in the Heartland," won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize.

"Storytelling is something we can't let go of," Banaszynski said.

Steve Fainaru followed the missions of U.S. troops in Iraq. Through the relationships he formed while spending time with the troops, he learned that investigative stories require a key ingredient: commitment.

Steele expressed a similar message when he said that there is no substitute for the element of time when writing a story. He also said that winning a Pulitzer Prize is a powerful symbol to those who are journalists.

"Keep the faith," Topping said.

In a world of difficult times for journalists, he encouraged the students in the room to pursue their passions that the MU School of Journalism helps develop.


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lily matha September 11, 2008 | 9:03 p.m.
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