It was inevitable, wonderful, and impossible to miss. Monday afternoon, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced. Winning the local reporting category was Sara Ganim and the staff of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., for their sensational coverage of the Jerry Sandusky investigation and the subsequent scandal at Penn State.
Watching my Twitter feed over the past few hours, it's been striking how many congratulatory messages have been directed to Ganim, the 24-year-old crime reporter who owned this story before anyone else knew it existed. It's not just self-congratulatory media either - there have been very few messages of congratulations to other winners. But Sara Ganim has become the focal point, the center of the celebration.
Why is that?
I have an idea.
This is not a good time to be a journalist. A study just came out the other day naming newspaper reporter as one of the five worst jobs to hold in the country. The pay's always been low, the work has always been a grind, but it feels worse now. Chances are you're doing the work of three people, because one co-worker's been laid off and another left (probably to do something stupid, like go back to grad school). You've got more work to do during the day, more deadlines to hit. You may be staring down a mandatory furlough in a few weeks, and maybe you're always holding your breath until the next round of layoffs passes. Add to this talk about how journalism is dying, about how we don't need traditional journalism anymore, about how what you do for a living doesn't matter in this new media world, that you're a dinosaur, a relic, a mouthpiece for corporate ownership.
And out of this, out of central Pennsylvania, comes a 24-year old crime reporter who finds a story no one else is talking about, and an editorial staff that supports her and helps her. They find the story, they report it, they keep at it even when the community isn't clicking the "like" button.
That's why this matters. That's why Sara Ganim's victory matters so much.
Because she was the crime reporter for the Harrisburg paper (not a tiny paper, no matter what ESPN and Poynter tell you). She had the kind of job so many of us have, or have had, or once had. She was covering crime, the police and courts beat. It's not glamorous or fancy. But she worked her ass off. She found the story of a lifetime on her beat ... and then covered it better than any one else could.
That's why this victory means so much. That's why we're so happy for Sara and her co-workers. Because they did what we all aspire to do. They broke the big story, and they knocked it out of the park with their coverage.
They showed us - every student, professor, writer, editor, scholar - that even in these tough times for our business, good journalism can still win.