Amazing story behind small market newspaper winning Pulitzer

Just last week, I had lunch with the publisher and editor of the Bristol Herald Courier.  They were already excited about the accolades they had received for their investigation into how a state board allowed the energy industry to funnel into an unaudited escrow fund tens of millions of dollars in royalties owed to people in one of the poorest regions of the state. This paper is staking its future on quality investigative journalism. A bold move for a paper with 7 reporters and a coverage area about the size of Connecticut.   So when I read this lead sentence on the AP today, it was extra special.

With only seven reporters on the Bristol Herald Courier’s staff, two bottles of cheap champagne were plenty to toast the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting on Monday.  

The Media General newspaper with a circulation of 33,000 received journalism’s highest award for the reporting of Daniel Gilbert on the mismanagement of natural gas royalties owed to landowners in Virginia.

“It’s a hell of an honor,” Gilbert, 28, said moments after learning of the newspaper’s award. “It underscores the importance of public service reporting, especially in rural areas.”

Editor J. Todd Foster bought the champagne across the street at Food City before the announcement and stuck the bottles in the trunk of his car. He figured he could celebrate a Pulitzer or console himself later if the newspaper didn’t win for the celebrated series.

“I’m doing great now,” said Foster, who also delivered a cake to the newsroom for the celebration.

 Gilbert spent part of 13 months reporting the complex story while handling daily assignments as one of seven staff writers at the paper.

 Editor J. Todd Foster, last week, told me the reporting by Gilbert received the top prize for newspapers under 100,000 circulation in an Investigative Reporters and Editors contest.  Foster is a member of the IRE group.

Read the Stories that won the Pulitzer here.

The rest of the winners on next page:

2010 Pulitzer Prize winners:

Journalism

Public ServiceBristol (Va.) Herald Courier

Breaking News ReportingThe Seattle Times Staff

Investigative Reporting – Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News and Sheri Fink of ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine

Explanatory Reporting – Michael Moss and members of The New York Times Staff

Local Reporting – Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

National Reporting – Matt Richtel and members of The New York Times Staff

International Reporting – Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post

Feature Writing – Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post

Commentary – Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post

Criticism – Sarah Kaufman of The Washington Post

Editorial Writing – Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News

Editorial Cartooning – Mark Fiore, self syndicated, appearing on SFGate.com

Breaking News Photography – Mary Chind of The Des Moines Register

Feature Photography – Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post

Letters, Drama and Music

FictionTinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)

DramaNext to Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey

HistoryLords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press)

BiographyThe First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf)

PoetryVersed by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)

General NonfictionThe Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday)

MusicViolin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (Lawdon Press)

Special Citations

Hank Williams press release on the Special Citation awarded to Hank Williamsclick here ….

For more information on winners, finalists, winning photographs and cartoons, and links to winning stories,

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