Series on a rape wins a Pulitzer

April 10, 1991|By Newsday

THE DES MOINES REGISTER won the Pulitzer Prize for public service yesterday for its series about a woman who wanted to tell the detailed story of her rape. The newspaper's bold approach challenged the conventional journalistic practice of not identifying rape victims.

The New York Times and the Washington Post shared the prize for international reporting in 1990. Serge Schmemann of The Times won for his coverage of the reunification of Germany while Caryle Murphy of The Post was recognized for dispatches she filed while hiding in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation.

In the arts, author John Updike won his second award in the fiction category for "Rabbit at Rest," the final book of a quartet. The prizes for excellence in journalism and the arts have been awarded annually by Columbia University in New York for 75 years.

The Pulitzer board also made it official for Neil Simon yesterday, awarding him the drama prize for "Lost in Yonkers," now on Broadway. Simon's publicist prematurely announced the prize Monday, the first clue that the heavy favorite, John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," had been nosed out.

The start of the Des Moines Register's controversial series had its roots in the Central Park jogger case. Geneva Overholser, editor of the Register, was asked by the New York Times to write an opinion page piece about whether newspapers compound the stigma of rape by refusing to identify its victims. Overholser also ran the piece in her own newspaper, asking women who had been raped to come forward. Several weeks later one did.

The five-part series by reporter Jane Schorer told the story, in intimate detail, of what happened to Nancy Ziegenmeyer and how her life had changed. The February 1990 series caused a stir in Iowa and in journalism circles about when, if at all, rape victims should be identified. The Register now identifies women who consent to having their name used.

"It raised the public consciousness about a crime that is too often swept in the corner," Overholser said yesterday in a phone interview from her newsroom.

Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, said that The Register's award proves the need for newspapers to have more diversity among top editors. "A woman editor took one of the toughest issues around and focused it in a way which reflected a woman's perspective on the issue."

The other winners are:

JOURNALISM

COMMENTARY: Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post.

CRITICISM: David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times.

EDITORIAL CARTOONING: Jim Borgman of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

EDITORIAL WRITING: The Birmingham News for analyzing inequities in Alabama's tax system.

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM: Susan C. Faludi of the Wall Street Journal for the human toll to a leveraged buyout.

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: William Snyder of The Dallas Morning News for pictures of orphaned children in Romania.

FEATURE WRITING: Sheryl James of the St. Petersburg Times for stories about a mother who abandoned her newborn child.

SPOT NEWS REPORTING: The Miami Herald for stories about a local cult leader and his followers' links to several killings.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Joseph T. Hallinan and Susan MHeadden of The Indianapolis Star for examining medical malpractice.

NATIONAL REPORTING: Marjie Lundstrom and Rochelle Sharpe of Gannett News Service for disclosing that hundreds of child abuse-related deaths are undetected each year.

BEAT REPORTING: Natalie Angier, science reporter for the New York Times.

SPOT NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Marinovich of The Associated Press for pictures showing supporters of South Africa's African National Congress killing a man they believed was a Zulu spy.

ARTS BIOGRAPHY: "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga," by Steven FTC Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.

GENERAL NON-FICTION: ,7.5 "The Ants," by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson.

HISTORY: "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812," by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

MUSIC: "Symphony," by Shulamit Ran, composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

POETRY: "Near Changes," by Mona Van Duyn.

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