Dallas Morning News, Todd Heisler's "Final Salute," Win Photo Pulitzer Prizes

Todd HeislerThe 2006 Pulitzer Prizes for photography were awarded today to The Dallas Morning News for their Breaking News team coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s devastating aftermath, and to NPPA member Todd Heisler of The Rocky Mountain News for Feature photography for “Final Salute,” the emotional and heartbreaking story of U.S. Marines whose job it is to break the bad news of a soldier’s death to families and to escort their war-torn bodies home for burial.

“Final Salute” also won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for reporter Jim Sheeler, Heisler’s partner on the project.

The winning entry from The Dallas Morning News included photographs by staff photographers Michael Ainsworth, Melanie Burford, Barbara Davidson, Tom Fox, Brad Loper, Michael Mulvey, Smiley N. Pool, and Irwin Thompson. The Pulitzer Board's citation for the Katrina coverage by Dallas reads, "For its vivid photographs depicting the chaos and pain after Hurricane Katrina engulfed New Orleans."

After the Pulitzer win today, Snyder told News Photographer magazine, "I think (the award) speaks really well of the staff that we have - because this was really a staff entry. There were 8 or 9 photographers represented in the entry, but there were another 8 or 9 photographers who were also in consideration. We had 50 or 60 great pictures to pick from, and picking the final pictures was the real though one."

Most of the Dallas photo winners were in town for the victory today, but three staffers had to be reached on the other side of the world to tell them the Pulitzer news. "Barbara Davidson is in Israel," Snyder said, "and we called her there. Michael Mulvey is in Iraq, and he was called. But Smiley Pool is in Africa and the SIM card in his cell phone doesn't work, so we've been talking with him by eMail all day."

Asked "What's next?" Snyder said, "How do you top the year we've had? How do you even match the year we've had? Barbara Davidson was Newspaper Photographer of the Year in POYi at Missouri. Smiley Pool was second in Photojournalist of the Year in NPPA's Best Of Photojournalism. We published the Katrina book, and now this. There's very little more we could do this year. It's pretty amazing."

The Pulitzer Prize announcement was made at 3 p.m. EST this afternoon in New York City by the Columbia University School of Journalism, who are the administrators of journalism’s premier annual Pulitzer honors.

It is the eighth Pulitzer Prize for the Dallas Morning News, and its fourth Pulitzer Prize for photography. The newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News photography by David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer in 2004 for their coverage of the war in Iraq; in 1993 for Spot News by William Snyder and Ken Geiger for their coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain; and in 1991 for Feature photography by Snyder for his coverage of Romanian orphans and critically ill children, many with AIDS.

In addition Synder, who is now the director of photography for The Dallas Morning News, won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 1989 along with reporter David Hanners and artist Karen Blessen for their special report on the crash of a corporate jet.

The Pulitzer jurors for the 2006 Pulitzer Prizes for Breaking News photography were Larry Nylund, deputy managing editor for The Journal News in White Plains, NY; Hai Do, director of photography for The Philadelphia Inquirer; Kenneth Irby of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies; Monica Moses, deputy managing editor of visuals for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and David Ng, assistant managing editor for productions for The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ.

The Pulitzer jurors for the 2006 Pulitzer Prizes for Feature photography were Denis Finley, managing editor for The Virginian-Pilot; J. Ross Baughman, a Pulitzer Prize photography winner who is now the director of photography for The Washington Times; Eric Newton, the director of journalism initiatives for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Janet Reeves, director of photography for the Rocky Mountain News; and Nylund.

“Final Salute” by photojournalist Heisler, written by Rocky Mountain News reporter Sheeler, tells the story of U.S. Marines stationed in Colorado at Buckley Air Force Base whose duty it is to notify the families of the deaths of their sons in Iraq and then escort their bodies home for burial. Heilser and Sheeler spent a year on the piece, centered around U.S. Marine Corps Major Steve Beck. Heisler’s coverage of the aftermath of war back here on the homefront, in funeral homes and cemeteries, follows three tours of being embedded in Iraq with U.S. troops.

Heisler jointed the NPPA in 1997. He's a 1994 graduate of Illinois State University and worked for community newspapers in suburban Chicago before joining the Rocky Mountain News in 2001. This is the third time the Rocky Mountain News has been a Pulitzer finalist since 2000. Heisler was also a member of the Rocky Mountain News photography team that earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for their coverage of Colorado's worst wildfire season.

The nominated finalists in the Spot News photography category this year were The Dallas Morning News; Eric Gay of the Associated Press for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath; and Carolyn Cole and Brian Vander Brug of the Los Angeles Times for their coverage of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The nominated finalists in the Feature photography category this year were Damon Winter of the Los Angeles Times for his coverage of two Eskimo villages in Alaska that still feel the pain of sexual abuse from a missionary 30 years ago; Mike Stocker of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for “Holocaust Survivors;” and Heisler.

In other categories, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans won two Pulitzer Prizes: one for Breaking News Reporting and one for Public Service. The Times-Picayune shared the Public Service award with the Sun Herald of Gulfport, MS. Both newspapers were cited for their outstanding Hurricane Katrina coverage.

The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism were established in 1917 in memory of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the first to call for the training of journalists at the university level in college programs, who provided for the birth and funding of the awards in his 1904 will as an incentive to journalistic excellence. In 1878 and only in his late twenties, Pulitzer was the owner and publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He died in 1911 aboard his yacht, and the Columbia School of Journalism was founded in 1912. Five years later the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in four categories: journalism, letters and drama, education, and four traveling scholarships.

More than 2,000 entries are submitted in the contest each year. There are 120 judges serving on 20 juries who are asked to make three nominations in each of the Pulitzer Prize’s 21 categories, two of which are for photography. A single jury judges both Breaking News photography and Feature photography entries. To be eligible for a Pulitzer, material must have been published in a newspaper in the United States during the previous year.

The complete list of 2006 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists is here.


Read an earlier story speculating on the winners and on the rarity of the "single image" Pulitzer Prize photograph.