America’s Best Newspaper Writing: The Classics

By Stuart Jones

Harold A. Littledale’s “Prisoners with Midnight in Their Hearts” written in January 12, 1917 puts forth a crystal clear, hard hitting image of the beyond crude conditions of the New Jersey State Prison. Littledale’s work is one that exposes the corruption of a long standing system that has gone completely unnoticed and left to literally rot and fall to smaller pieces. Even though he is writing about inmates at a prison, he allows the reader to see and feel what the inmates do, causing the reader to feel sick and grimy only after reading his short article. This power to bring a movement and light to problems in society is a necessary part of our press.

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Paige St. John of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for her work “Weak insurers put millions of Floridians at risk.” Her story exposed how mainstream corporate insurance companies had been fleeing Florida and in their place stood unsupported smaller local insurance companies. The problem was that they insured billions of dollars worth of property with only millions of dollars to their name. St. John put forth a series of stories that brought light to these insurers who distinctly exhibited financial risk. Her work brought forth important data and cause regulatory movements in the insurance industry. Read the rest of her story here

Richard Wright in 1935 wrote a deadline classic called “Joe Louis Uncovers Dynamite” that won him a Pulitzer Prize. His story about the reaction of a people after Joe Louis, an African-American boxer, won an underdog match takes the reader to the streets. The diction that Wright uses to put the reader with the celebrants is the perfect touch to make it real. He captures the reactions of the African-American community by writing the way that they speak and by giving many different looks into scenes that happened that night. This late night event all had to be typed up and put into print that evening to make the next day’s paper. Wright got down to it and wrote under deadline to generate this classic.

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Amy Ellis Nutt of The Star-Ledger won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her story “The Wreck of the Lady Mary.” Like Wright, she takes time to allow the reader to hear from the subject of the story. Nutt gives voice to Jose Arias, a man who abandons his boat in the freezing Atlantic and not just the basics but speaks in Spanish “Salvame, por favor. Salvame.” The most important part of using the Spanish is that she translates it and says who he is praying to, because without that the reader is left to assume. By adding small details like that she makes the scene its own where the reader shivers because it seems so real. Read the full story of Arias’ survival here

Marvel Cooke in 1950 was recognized for her story that printed in The Daily Compass called “From ‘The Bronx Slave Market.’” Cooke tells the story of how the slave market hasn’t left the United States. Her work is from a personal perspective which is rarely seen in the newspaper publications now, but it had its place. It was necessary for her to relay this perspective of modern day slavery that existed because it had to stop. The passion she exuded through this story is a characteristic that plays through in many pieces of strong writing. Joseph Rago of The Wall Street Journal won the

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Pulitzer Prize for his work “ObamaCare and the Constitution” in 2011. Rago is so apparently fired up and passionate about the problems he sees with Obama’s new health care system that the reader feels it through his article. The ferocity and sharpness that comes across in his writing shows his dire want for a change to be made. His passion on the subject caused him to write strongly and smartly to make the story award winning. Read his perspective here


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