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Author to speak about history of Pulitzer Prizes

By Maureen Quinlan
Globe Correspondent / March 18, 2012
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For journalists, a rite of spring is the announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners, which also means a spike in activity for Hingham author Roy Harris.

Harris wrote “Pulitzer’s Gold: Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism.’’ He will speak about his book, the history of the Pulitzers, and this year’s awards (winners will be announced April 16) at the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell on March 30 at 7:30 p.m.

“I gear up for Pulitzer time,’’ said Harris, a longtime journalist and current editorial director of CFO World, a website that focuses on finance and information technology. “It’s a time for me to revisit what great journalism is out there to be rewarded.’’

“Pulitzer’s Gold,’’ published in 2008 and updated in 2010, examines the stories that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and represented the eras in which they were reported.

Among the subjects are World War I, which was the topic of articles that won the first Pulitzer in 1918, and the Pentagon Papers and Watergate of the 1970s.

Harris noted that this region has a particularly fascinating connection to the Pulitzers.

“Boston is a great place to talk about this topic,’’ he said. “There is such a great tradition of Boston journalism.’’

The Catholic Church abuse scandal, which was the subject of a Globe prize in 2003, became an important part of Harris’s book, which devotes two chapters to it. Much earlier, the Boston Post had one of the greatest public service stories in American history with the reporting of Charles Ponzi’s investment scheme in 1920.

But the prize’s impact extends across the country.

“The prize is the news media’s measurement of the best reporting of the year, in a country where we depend on telling truth to power as a checks and balances system,’’ Harris said.

The method of nomination is somewhat controversial, said Harris. The winners and finalists are announced on one date, unlike Hollywood awards, in which nominees are announced first and the winners named later.

No one but the Pulitzer board knows who has been nominated, but if Harris had to predict this year’s winners, he points to online forums.

“ProPublica and online investigative regional programs will be a big part of the race this year. The most powerful stories probably came out of Harrisburg, Pa., with the Penn State stories,’’ he said, referring to allegations of sexual abuse in the university’s football program.

Harris said his talk in Norwell also will discuss the decline of investigative journalism and what is being done to keep it alive.

“Great journalism lives,’’ he said. “It hasn’t faded, like much of the newspaper industry. I want to offer an encouraging perspective about the future of investigative journalism. I don’t want people to give up on it.’’

Maureen Quinlan can be reached at maureen.quinlan@globe.com.

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