Biloxi: Pulitzer Gold
Highest Honor Salutes the Newspaper’s Vital Role in Helping Its Community Recover
|(Biloxi) Sun Herald Executive Editor Stan Tiner thanks the staff after the announcement that the paper won the 2006 Pulitzer Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service.
Photo by JAMES EDWARD BATES/(Biloxi) Sun Herald
[Biloxi] Sun Herald Publisher
Ricky Mathews proudly displays the Pulitzer
Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service Journalism that the
newspaper won for its
Hurricane Katrina coverage.
Photo by DREW TARTER/ (Biloxi)
Eight months after Hurricane Katrina brought the Gulf Coast to
its knees, the (Biloxi) Sun Herald does more than survive – it
In recognition of its work in guiding the community through its darkest hours, the Sun Herald won the 2006 Pulitzer Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service – journalism’s highest award. Executive Editor Stan Tiner dedicated the award to the people of South Mississippi, “who will not be defeated.” Employees celebrated Southern style, with sweet tea and cookies.
That famed “steel magnolias” Southern determination is more than just fodder for novels. That’s clear throughout the newspaper, and evident in Tiner’s comments to his colleagues after the announcement. “We knew we were not alone, and indeed our colleagues from every Knight Ridder newspaper – from sea to shining sea – came over the weeks ahead, volunteering to live in the squalor of that unbearable September Mississippi heat to help us provide the information that was necessary for our shattered cities and towns to keep going in those critical days.”
Tiner paid special tribute to Knight Ridder Digital, saying they “worked feverishly to keep the outside world informed through our joint teams reporting efforts, informing evacuees of the news of their hometowns.”
He thanked Knight Ridder for providing journalists and support staffers. And he thanked employees throughout the company who “dug deep into their own pockets, funds matched by corporate, to send over $600,000 in grant funds that shored the home team.”
Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder sent an e-mail to
employees throughout the company: “We should all join the
folks in Biloxi taking great pride in this accomplishment. It’s
wonderful recognition of the very important role we play in all
our communities. And it’s great validation of what we know
to be the caliber of people who make up the Knight Ridder community.”
The Sun Herald’s determination and tenacity is being recognized throughout the newspaper world. The paper was recently awarded the 2005 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Online Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Optimism beyond the editorial product
While everyone shares the glory of the editorial recognition, employees are most encouraged by the fortitude of their colleagues.
Human Resources Manager Wanda Howell says that about half the employees sustained severe damage to their homes, and more than half of those found their homes uninhabitable. Of those, more than half are still living in temporary housing. Despite uneasy circumstances, everyone is buoyed by the role the newspaper played in the community.
Advertising Director Vicki Barrett says readers and advertisers learned something important. “I’ve got news for people who say the print product is dead. We’re more relevant than ever,” she said.
For the first two months after the storm, the Sun Herald distributed 81,000 newspapers free every day (pre-Katrina circulation was 47,000). “People chased us down the street to get a copy of the paper,” said Circulation Director Gary Raskett. “It was the only way they knew what services and stores were available.”
Generating readers and loyalty
The free papers were the “biggest sampling program in newspaper history.” Raskett said. And though it was designed as a public service, it also served as a sales tactic for the paper that lost 32 delivery routes in the devastated region.
|Editors Lisa Monti and Doug Barber and Advertising Manager
Paul Mallery (standing from left) join in the applause on learning of the
paper’s Pulitzer Prize.
Photo by DAVID PURDY/(Biloxi) Sun Herald
Daily circulation is down about 2,000. “Can I throw a big BUT in here?” Raskett asked. “Once you remove the Newspaper in Education numbers [which reflect the fact that schools were closed for so long], we’re down about 400 daily. Considering that entire areas of our distribution network disappeared, that’s remarkable. It reflects the loyalty and appreciation of Sun Herald readers.”
The other upbeat news is that the reliance on discount subscriptions, standard before Katrina, has disappeared. Ninety percent of home delivery is now paid in advance at least three months. Eighty percent of those subscriptions are at full rate.
Advertising ups and downs
You’d expect a lot of gloom from Ad Director Barrett, who watched casino revenue plummet 71 percent and department store revenue sink by 34 percent. (Not to mention she now owns a vacant lot where her house once stood.) Instead, she talks about the explosive growth in service and classified categories. Employment classifieds are up 109.1 percent and classified other is up 20.4 percent. The result, she says, is that total advertising revenue is up 0.2 percent.
These areas of growth aren’t only the natural byproduct of a market in flux. “We had a plan,” Barrett said. “Though, the minute we stepped outside and saw how devastated everything was, most of it was tossed out the window.”
Barrett turned to the Knight Ridder corporate team for staffing help and expertise. Within two weeks all of the sales territories had been redrawn, all businesses had been surveyed to find out who was open and new rates had been created. In addition, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer stepped in and served as the ad department and classified center for the Sun Herald.
|Executive Editor Stan Tiner, left, celebrates with Sun Herald staffers as news of the paper’s Pulitzer Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service Journalism is announced by The Associated Press.
Photo by DAVID PURDY/(Biloxi) Sun Herald
Keeping revenue up as business stabilizes over the next few years is important, too. A free-distribution job guide was recently introduced and the paper will soon launch a home and design section. With several grand openings expected over the next two years as businesses rebuild, the paper is aggressively pursuing a strategy of vendor-supported special sections.
Employees came together
That upbeat attitude echoes among employees, too, says Howell. “They rallied together in amazing ways following the storm. Everyone was ready to do any job, whether unloading newspapers or cleaning tables.”
The good days continue to get better, and occur more often, she said. “I never cease to be amazed at the spirit in the community and at the paper. No one is just sitting back waiting for someone to help. A lot of work is being done every day.”
And while acknowledging the psychological and emotional damage, she says, “overall, employees and management are working together to minimize the downsides and help each other rebuild.”
“One clear benefit of the hurricane is a sense of pride in working for the newspaper. Employees have seen the tremendous impact the newspaper has on the community.” ><
Read remarks from Publisher Ricky Mathews and Executive Editor Stan Tiner by clicking here.
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