The editor of the Capital Gazette of Maryland said Monday that his staff experienced some “rollercoaster moments” as it won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its own newsroom.
“Clearly, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell told The Associated Press. “No one wants to win an award for something that kills five of your friends.”
The Capital Gazette, based in the Maryland capital city of Annapolis, published on schedule the day after the shooting attack that claimed five staffers’ lives. It was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history. The man charged in the attack had a longstanding grudge against the paper.
Hutzell, as editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said the paper had submitted entries for five categories, including a joint entry with The Baltimore Sun for breaking news. Although the Gazette didn’t win in any of those five categories, the Pulitzer board awarded it the special citation and an extraordinary $100,000 bequest to further its journalism.
The Pulitzer board said the special citation honors the journalists, staff and editorial board of the newspaper “for their courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in U.S. history in their newsroom” and for an “unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief.”
Hutzell said the Pulitzer judges handled their decision admirably.
“It’s very difficult when you are reporting in some ways on yourself,” he said. “That’s not what we do. We’re behind the camera, not in front of it.”
Five newspaper employees — John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen — were killed in the attack last June 28 . The shooting didn’t stop other staffers from covering it and putting out a newspaper the next day, with assistance from colleagues at The Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the same company.
Jarrod Ramos, the man charged in the newsroom shooting, 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 in 2011. The suit was dismissed as groundless.
County police arrested Ramos in the newsroom. They said he blocked an exit and then used a shotgun to blast his way through the entrance.
Ramos’ trial is scheduled to start in November. He pleaded not guilty last year to first-degree murder charges. April 29 is the deadline for attorneys to change his plea to not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.
In October, the National Press Foundation announced that Hutzell won the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award . The award was established in 1984 to recognize imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff.
In December, the newspaper’s staff was included by Time magazine among its 2018 Person of the Year honorees.