PHOTOJOURNALIST EKES OUT AN OLD-FASHIONED WIN
2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting spells victory for long-form journalism and Chicago Sun-Times Photographer John J. Kim
by Elizabeth Eun
IT WAS A MONDAY, and John J. Kim was taking a much-needed vacation from his job as a photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He spent the morning taking care of such mundane tasks as dropping his car off at the shop to get a wobbly wheel fixed. When he got around to checking his cell phone, he noticed he had 17 messages, including several from the newsroom.
“That’s why I thought maybe something bad happened,” recalled Kim, 36, who had not even checked his email yet that day and feared he might be getting laid off.
He was even a little peeved. “I was like, ‘Wait, I’m on vacation. Gosh, at least leave me alone until I get back to work or something.’ I finally ended up checking email and found out this happened.”
By “this,” Kim meant he, along with Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Mark Konkol, had won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. The jury for Columbia University’s annual honors recognized the three journalists for a riveting series documenting violence in Chicago neighborhoods that ran in 2010. Their work was the result of a year-long, immersive project that looked specifically at murders plaguing Chicago’s Northwest Side, the resulting community devastation and the Chicago Police Department’s homicide detectives charged with solving the crimes.
For four months, Kim and Main, a beat reporter, shadowed detectives Tony Noradin and Don Falk of the department’s Area 5 Homicide unit, meeting with and following them from pre-roll call hours to crime scenes in the middle of the night.
Eerie and insightful, the resulting chronicles are an unflinching look into a world that might be taken for granted, but isn’t readily talked about.
“The reporters did a lot of work beforehand—a lot of meetings, everyone from the superintendent of the police had to sign off on the project,” Kim said. “It wasn’t your everyday thing. In general, you wouldn’t be allowed to do what we got to do.
“We had to sign papers saying the cops aren’t responsible if we get shot.”