A Pulitzer’s Gold Chronicle

By Roy Harris

Past National President
Senior Editor, CFO

A Pulitzer’s Gold Chronicle: Writing a Book? Be Prepared, like Dr. Frankenstein, to Deal with a Creation with a Life of Its Own.

Admit it, we’ve all thought about it: taking something we’ve done for a publication and developing it into—dare we even think it?—a book! Over a career that started in newspapers in the ’60s, I can’t count the number of times I was fascinated enough with some story to think that it had “book potential.” But that’s as far as it went.
Until 2002.
Strangely, what started it all was a personal project, not a business article for my current employer, CFO, or my long-time previous employer, the Wall Street Journal. I did research into the Pulitzer Prizes that my father had been involved with over a distinguished 43-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea was to give credit to the teams of staffers who had done the prize-winning work, often without bylines or personal credit. I gave a presentation to that paper on what would have been dad’s 100th birthday, Sept. 9, 2002. One of my greatest thrills ever.
But I came away from the experience amazed at how little there was in the literature of journalism about the “stories behind the stories” of the winners—and especially one particular category among the 14 journalism Pulitzer divisions: the one for public service.
So began, very slowly at first, what became a five-year “avocation”—often approaching obsession—learning whatever I could about those prizes, talking to reporters and editors who were involved with winning them, and shaping the idea for a book that would take readers from the origins of Joseph Pulitzer’s benefaction (which turned out to be 1902, 15 years before the first Pulitzers were actually awarded), and leading them into the terrific stories that instantly became part of journalism lore. Nationally, the best known of those public service winners—the only prizes to merit the Pulitzer gold medal (hence the book’s title)—were for publishing the Pentagon Papers (the New York Times), for breaking the Watergate scandal (Washington Post), and more recently, for producing “A Nation Challenged” as a window on 9/11 (the Times again), and for exposing the world to the incredible story of Catholic priests sexually preying on young parishioners (the Boston Globe.)
Since then, it’s been quite a journey, leading to the official publication of Pulitzer’s Gold on Jan. 17. I was greeted with two terrific stories in my local newspapers. You can check them out through my new website. And I’m beginning to see stirrings to suggest there could be a larger audience than just journalists and j-schools. (I’ve even scheduled radio talk show appearances in New York and Washington!)
But I’ve learned already that committing to a project like this really does take over your life. You need the patience of your boss and co-workers, and you have to be totally upfront about the time being consumed. In my case, I cut back to four days a week, to allow myself a “long weekend” devoted to the book. (Over the five years, my only extended time away from CFO had been a seven-month unpaid leave, in which much of my travel and library research was concentrated.)
With the book officially published, that commitment is far from over. In addition to giving interviews and planning signing events and talks—something that’s just started for me—I’m finding entire weekends consumed by sending out copies, acknowledging friends, and updating the new website. Unless you have a Random House on your team, much of the post-publication work is up to you.
On the assumption that other ASBPE folks are curious about what happens next, I’ll be blogging from time to time in this space about the peaks and valleys of being “a published author.” As I told my best friend when I sent him his copy: That’s the best kind!
Thanks, ASBPE, for letting me scratch an itch that’s gone unscratched since my last ramblings of the Editor’s Notes “letter from the president.” And keep up the great work, Steve, Amy, Jyme, Robin, Janet and the ASBPE Team!

UPDATE: For folks in the Washington, DC, area who would like to hear more on this topic from Roy, along with another B2B author and a literary agent, join the DC chapter on Jan. 30 for a special workshop. For details, see the DC chapter blog.

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