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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The Chicago Sun-Times on Monday won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, with a series of stories that told readers “why they won’t stop shooting in Chicago.”
The Pulitzer puts reporters Frank Main, Mark Konkol and photographer John J. Kim in the company of such legendary Sun-Times newsmen as Roger Ebert, John H. White and Jack Higgins.
Main, Konkol and Kim won the Pulitzer for their painstaking, heartbreaking documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods, and the devastating impact of the increasingly widespread “no-snitch code.” The Sun-Times team spent a year probing the lives of victims, criminals and detectives.
“This is totally unexpected, and it’s a great thing,” said a stunned Konkol. “I’m just glad that I work with such great people, and it’s about time the Sun-Times got some recognition for the work we do every day.”
The news came, as things often do in a busy city newsroom, with a shout: “Pulitzer! . . . Konkol and Main!” Cheers erupted and champagne corks popped as word spread through the Sun-Times offices.
“It’s not every day that I hear multiple squeals of joy,” said Publisher John Barron. “That’s what happened when we found out. What a great sound. There are so many smiling faces around here now. This is a superb reward for Frank, Mark and John on some incredible work. We’re giving them the rest of the day off.”
Main, the Sun-Times’ crime reporter, was making his daily beat calls when he got the news, and Konkol had just returned from getting a cup of coffee.
“This comes as a lightning bolt for me,” Main said. “It’s something that you never dream of when you’re doing your daily reporting job. I’m honored I’m in the same company as many great journalists at the Sun-Times who’ve been honored.”
Kim didn’t get the news for a couple of hours. He was on vacation Monday, getting a wobbly wheel fixed. When he finally checked his cell phone, he had 17 messages — including one from work — and thought perhaps he’d been laid off.
He walked into the newsroom to a standing ovation, and said he was very proud of “Our little paper that could.”
“I’m so proud of our paper and the really hardworking staff,” Kim said.
It’s the Sun-Times’ first Pulitzer since 1989, when Jack Higgins won for editorial cartoons. Other Sun-Times journalists with Pulitzers include film critic Roger Ebert and photographer John White.
All together, the newspaper has won eight Pulitzers, the most prestigious award in American journalism.
Editor in Chief Don Hayner said he was especially proud of the work that won the 2011 prize, noting the no-snitch code “has long been a problem in Chicago, and these guys have shed a light on a very pressing concern for the city.”
Metro Editor for Projects Paul Saltzman, who edited much of the coverage that was honored by the Pulitzer board, said, “This is the kind of work that we aim to do and that people need us to do — big stories that other people aren’t doing, that get to the heart of complex problems that we all need to pay attention to. And to have that recognized with the Pulitzer Prize — it’s just an amazing feeling.”
At a newsroom gathering Monday afternoon, Barron praised Kim, Konkol and Main for doing great work during difficult times in a newsroom that has experienced deep cuts.
“The one thing we haven’t had to trim is our ambitions about being the best local newspaper in Chicago,” Barron said. “And this award goes right to that ambition.”
Konkol paid tribute to the late James Tyree, who led a group of investors in buying the Sun-Times out of bankruptcy in October 2009.
“We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for the buyout with James Tyree,” Konkol said. “It’s kind of sad that as a South Side guy and a White Sox fan, he’s gone and he’s not here to see this.”
Konkol was characteristically modest about the impact of the prize-winning stories.
“We didn’t change anything, maybe, but we shed a little light on what it’s really like out there,” he told his colleagues. “And I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.”