Rogues’ Revenge: L.A. Times Bunch Piles Pulitzers

When New York Times national editor Dean Baquet left the paper to become the managing editor of the Los Angeles Time s in 2000, he kicked off a Westward-ho! migration from 43rd Street. Former Times “Styles” czar John Montorio became the L.A. Times ‘ deputy managing editor in 2001. Michalene Busico and Rick Flaste then followed came. Then former Times Seattle bureau chief Sam Howe Verhovek and former Times Atlanta bureau chief Kevin Sack. More recently, Doug Frantz left his job as head of The Times ‘ investigative unit to work for the L.A. Times in Istanbul.

Now the Pulitzer Prize jury’s gone west, too. On April 7 the L.A. Times won 2003 Pulitzers for national reporting, feature reporting and feature photography, in what amounted to the largest ever draw by the paper. With three wins it tied The Washington Post for the most Pulitzers this year.

And while The New York Times won one Pulitzer-for Clifford Levy’s series on mentally ill adults in New York State–regulated homes-it was Mr. Sack’s national reporting Pulitzer (shared with Alan Miller) that had many inside the 43rd Street newsroom buzzing.

Mr. Sack-like Mr. Verhovek-was one of six New York Times national correspondents or bureau chiefs who was told last year to relocate to New York or Washington last year in a Howell Raines–led shakeup that resulted in six staffers leaving the paper. Mr. Sack, who had joint custody of his daughter in Atlanta, was one of them: He quit to join the L.A. Times because they let him stay in Atlanta.

If Mr. Sack’s Pulitzer represented a little comeuppance for the New York Times , the L.A. Times wasn’t saying. Mr. Baquet-who edited Mr. Sack while at The Times and brought him on board last year-said he’d “let others talk about the irony” of Mr. Sack’s win.

“It had nothing to do with The New York Times ,” Mr. Baquet said of his decision to hire Mr. Sack. “While I knew him and his work from having worked at The New York Time s, I would have jumped at the opportunity to hire Kevin no matter where he worked.”

Likewise, Mr. Sack declined to discuss his old employer.

“I’m not going there,” he said. “I’m extremely happy where I am.”

In addition to expressing his appreciation to Los Angeles Times editor and executive vice president John Carroll, who edited the story, Mr. Sack called the three Pulitzers won by the L.A. Times a “legitimate recognition of what the new regime at the Los Angeles Times is doing.”

“The new approach is about being ambitious in everything we do,” Mr. Sack said. “Not only in big projects but in everyday reporting. And I don’t think there’s anybody better at it than John Carroll and Dean Baquet.”

“The new approach is to aim high,” Mr. Sack said. “They feel our staff can compete with anyone else’s in the country. It’s a shame-because the [ L.A. ] Times doesn’t have a national distribution others have-that most of the country doesn’t get to see our work. Most days we compete very well.”

A New York Times spokesperson said Mr. Raines sent a congratulatory note to Mr. Sack. “We’re delighted for him,” the spokesperson said.

No one, of course, expected The Time s-we’re talking about the local Times now-to repeat their 2002 showing. Last year, six of The Times ‘ record seven Pulitzers came from its reporting in the aftermath of 9/11.

This year, without that massive story to latch onto, the paper tried to find other stories to try and dominate. But come Pulitzer-submission time, they had a hard time trying to decide what stories they dominated. According to Times sources, after originally deciding to submit its coverage of the Washington, D.C.–area sniper for Pulitzer consideration for national reporting, the paper pulled it at the last minute in favor of its aggressive but controversial coverage of the Augusta National Golf Club.

To some within The Times , this was a sign that the paper’s leadership was determined to thumb its nose at the critics who attacked the golf-club series-so much so that it submitted an almost-certain-to-lose series rather than put forth the more standard entry on the sniper. Asked about the late substitution, a Times spokesperson said: “We always prepare somewhat more potential entries than we wind up submitting, and when the last minute comes, the top editors make a final pick-the best of the best, as it were. We don’t disclose which ones fell out at that point, but there are certainly some that would have been worthy entries.”

But most at The Times -again, the N.Y. one, not the L.A. one-thought that after last year’s haul, a Pulitzer correction was bound to happen. One New York Times source said: “Equilibrium has been restored.”

“I’m speaking to you now through a surgical mask,” Time Asia ‘s editor Karl Taro Greenfeld said from Hong Kong on the evening of Saturday, April 5.

It was because of SARS, of course. Earlier in the day, Mr. Greenfeld said, a female junior staffer broke into tears while sitting in his office. The stress over the acute respiratory virus-which has killed about 100 people to date-had gotten to her. She lived in a small flat in the kind of building where the disease had been spreading. Now, she didn’t know what to do.

“It’s hard to console her when she’s in that state,” Mr. Greenfeld said, “because what are you going to say: ‘I don’t think you’re going to catch it’? Statistically, the chances of you getting it are very slim. But we’re in a city in the grips of a panic.”

Since SARS became a story, news organizations in Asia have struggled with how to cover the story and protect staff. Both Mr. Greenfeld and John Bussey, the latter of whom oversees The Asian Wall Street Journal as well as the Far East Economic Review , have required their staff to wear masks in the office. Mr. Greenfeld’s deputy, William Green (who, like Mr. Greenfeld, sent his family out of the country) now works from what Mr. Greenfeld semi-jokingly called a “secure location.” Both men have dispatched the majority of their staffs to work from home.

“Letting people work at home does two things,” Mr. Bussey said. “It reduces the commuting our staffers have to do, and thus the chance of them getting infected. It also cuts the number of people in the office, which reduces the likelihood of an infection causing a quarantine.”

A quarantine by Hong Kong’s government is detrimental for any business, but for a news organization it can be catastrophic. So far, neither man has had a staffer come down with SARS, but each has contingency plans in place. Time Asia , Mr. Greenfeld said, would continue to be edited and reported from Hong Kong, Mr. Greenfeld said, but would transmit its pages from Time ‘s office in London.

Should the now-skeletal news desk be shut down, Mr. Bussey said, the paper could be put together from the offices in New York and South Brunswick, N.J. In the past week, Mr. Bussey said, a backup system of laptops that can edit, format, layout and then ship the magazine to the printer-all from home locations-was put together for the Far Eastern Economic Review . The editors, Mr. Bussey said, produced a chunk of the magazine on the backup system this week.

Mr. Greenfeld has maintained a sense of humor through the ordeal. He told Off the Record that his staff had started an infection pool to guess how many new cases would be reported in Hong Kong and that the company he hired to do an emergency cleanup ripped off numerous minidisk and MP3 players. Still, he recognized the dangers in reporting the story.

“When correspondents are at war, the risks are so obvious and clear,” Mr. Greenfeld said. “We give them the respect that’s due. Here, we don’t have correspondents at war, but they are putting themselves at risk.”

Bryan Walsh, a writer-reporter with Time Asia , called the story “hard”-both to report and to live with.

“It’s been confusing, because the things readers want to know from your reporting are things that the scientists don’t know either,” Mr. Walsh said. “Readers want to know what the cause of SARS is, but scientists don’t know, either.

“With most stories, you go to work, report them and go home,” Mr. Walsh continued. “This is a story effecting everyone in Hong Kong. You can’t go anywhere without people talking about it.”

While SARS has become front-page news in the U.S., it has in large part been overshadowed by the war in Iraq. As a result, journalists in Hong Kong are in a kind of vacuum: reporting on a disease that very few people understand in what’s often an underreported part of the world.

“There have been instances where we are sitting around asking, ‘Are we the only ones obsessed with this story right now?'” Mr. Greenfeld said. “If this were London, would this be a bigger story? Of course. Asia’s still Asia-that weird faraway place. But for us, Asia’s still our home.”

Investigative reporter Tim Golden, who helped The New York Times snare the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, has left the paper.

Mr. Golden’s resignation-which occurred on Tuesday, April 1-ended what had been a caustic period between the reporter and his top editors, several Times sources said. According to these sources, Mr. Golden had been frustrated for some time-ever since Howell Raines spiked several stories written by Mr. Golden and fellow reporter David Kocieniewski on then–New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli.

Since late 2000, Mr. Golden and Mr. Kocieniewski had written extensively on the inquiry into Mr. Torricelli’s relationship with businessman and fund-raiser David Chang. The coverage was intense and devastating. Several times, in fact, Mr. Torricelli’s lawyers accused the Justice Department of leaking information to The Times as part of a smear campaign against the Senator.

Though he was censured by the U.S. Senate, Mr. Torricelli didn’t give up his re-election bid until October 2002, and Mr. Golden and Mr. Kocieniewski stayed on the case. But in the period between August 2002 (when the Senate ethics committee examined Mr. Torricelli’s case) and the Senator’s withdrawal from the Senate race, Mr. Raines killed several stories after they were edited, sources said. One Times source said that Mr. Raines deemed the pieces “reckless.” Another Times source said editors were concerned that the paper might be accused of “piling on.”

When more than one story didn’t run, sources at the Times said Mr. Golden and Mr. Kocieniewski lost sources who provided them with vital information.

Mr. Golden was ready to quit then, but sources said that newly appointed investigative editor Doug Frantz convinced him to stay on. Earlier this year, sources said, Mr. Golden began working on projects under Mr. Frantz.

But after Mr. Frantz abruptly left the paper in March to work from Istanbul for the Los Angeles Times , sources said, Mr. Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd proposed that Mr. Golden drop investigative work for a daily news job.

When reached at home, Mr. Golden-who also shared the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting while with the Miami Herald -declined to comment on any details of his departure or what his future plans might be.

Mr. Kocieniewski didn’t return a call seeking comment, and a Times spokesperson said: “We don’t normally comment on departures. We wish Tim well, but any details about his reasons and plans should properly come from him.”

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman-best known for his 1999 profile of then–Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, in which the pitcher made his notorious comments about “foreigners,” etc.-has left the magazine to be a non-sports general-assignment features writer for Newsday .

It might seem strange for Mr. Pearlman to give up the wet dream of every 13-year-old boy. However, Mr. Pearlman said he’d approached the newspaper about a possible job after he’d grown “sick” of covering sports.

Mr. Pearlman, who said he “used to be a big fan,” added that his decision had nothing to do with Sports Illustrated , he said that he “didn’t want to look back 40 years from now having only been a writer for SI. I want to try other things.”

“Every team that wins is the team nobody expected,” Mr. Pearlman lamented of his past life. “Every player approaches the World Series saying, ‘We’re going to make history.’ It’s not history! They’re going to play the damn thing next year!”

Mr. Pearlman said he first began to feel this way after food poisoning forced him home from Game 4 of the 2001 World Series. When Tino Martinez hit the game-winning home run against the Diamondbacks, what Mr. Pearlman felt wasn’t anger or remorse or sadness at not being able to report on one of the most dramatic post-season games ever. In fact, he said, “I was so glad not to be at this game.”

After nine years at the New York Post , political columnist Bob Hardt is joining New York 1 as the cable station’s political director and executive producer. Sadly, Mr. Hardt-known for his cute mugshot-like column photo-will largely work behind the scenes, on Inside City Hall . In addition, he’ll help put together a daily political feature for the station’s Web site. He will, however, make “occasional” on-air appearances.

“The most technical thing I know about TV is how to work the remote control,” Mr. Hardt said. “Hopefully, that’s going to change soon.”

“The graphic arts field is not known for its literacy, but Sam was an exception,” graphic designer Milton Glaser said of the famed art director Sam Antupit, who died on Sunday, April 6, of complications from heart failure. He was 71.

After attending Yale University and Yale’s Graduate School of Design, Antupit went on to become the art director at Esquire , Art in America , Scientific American , and worked as a graphics designer at The New York Review of Books , Vogue , Harper’s Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar . He was also vice president of art and design at the Harry N. Abrams publishing house and later started his own publishing company, Commonplace Books.

Antupit was well known for his years at Esquire, where he worked with Harold Hayes, John Berendt and Byron Lobell. He and fellow art directors Elton Robinson, Frank Zachary and Gerald Cinamon would go out to lunch and “marvel over the fact that we had the four best jobs in New York,” according to Mr. Robinson. “Under Harold Hayes at Esquire we were part of the group that a lot of people think were the golden years of Esquire and we thought so at the time,” said Mr. Dobell, who was the editor of Esquire when Antupit was the art director. John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , was an associate editor at Esquire then and worked with Antupit for seven years. “Working with him was not like working with a co-worker, but a co-conspirator,” said Mr. Berendt. “The wonderful thing about him as an art director was his editorial eye. It wasn’t just design, he understood what the story or feature was trying to do.”

Antupit later worked for The New York Review of Books and created the paper’s design in its first year of publication. “He really set up a basic pattern which we’ve followed largely with variations since 1963,” said New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers. “He seemed to understand very quickly what we were trying to do and he, in a very quiet way, would come up with ideas for the paper’s design.”

More than anything else, Mr. Glaser said Antupit would be remembered for his “literary intelligence.” “For a large part of his life, making books and designing them was his most passionate pursuit,” said Mr. Glaser. “It was his love of the written word and an attempt to be respectful and appropriate to expressing that affection,” he added.

-Alexandra Wolfe Rogues’ Revenge: L.A. Times Bunch Piles Pulitzers