April 6, 2004

Journal's Station coverage a Pulitzer finalist

From The Providence Journal:

The Providence Journal's coverage of The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick on Feb. 20, 2003, which claimed 100 lives, was one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in public service, journalism's highest accolade.

The Pulitzer jury cited The Journal for "its comprehensive coverage of the causes and consequences of a nightclub fire that killed 100 people and spread anguish across America's smallest state."

A series on workplace safety by two New York Times reporters won in the category. Other finalists for the public service award were The Louisville Courier-Journal and The Seattle Times.

"Although I know you share my disappointment in the choice made by the Pulitzer Board, I want to thank you for the work you did on The Station fire," said Joel P. Rawson, Journal executive editor, in a letter to the newspaper's employees yesterday afternoon.

"More than 200 of you gave this story everything you had for 10 months," Rawson said. "We must keep our perspective. One hundred people died, and scores more suffered terrible injuries. There are people among our neighbors who will grieve forever.

"Those people, and all of our readers, deserved the very best we could do," Rawson said. "They, and you, can be assured it was the best I've seen this newspaper do in my 30 years here."

The Journal published more than 160 staff stories and 120 photos during the first nine days of the fire coverage. Each news cycle added to the public's awareness and understanding.

On the one-month anniversary of the fire, The Journal published a 20-page special section that vividly depicted the magnitude of the tragedy at the time: 99 lives lost.

That section carried a photograph and written profile of each victim. It also acknowledged the breadth of the initial response by listing and photographing hundreds of men and women from fire departments, rescue units and hospital emergency rooms throughout the region.

Later, the newspaper ran a series investigating the decisions that led to the disaster. The articles included the roles of state and local government, fire inspectors, club operators, the properties of polyurethane foam that coated the club's ceiling and the astounding speed of the fire.

The newspaper also focused on the medical problems faced by victims and told the personal stories of people who went out one February evening to have a good time and became engulfed in a horrific fire.

The first police scanner report in The Journal newsroom picked up at about 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2003 stated: "Send all available rescues."

From that moment, The Journal committed its reporting resources and staff on the fire. By the end of 2003, the newspaper had published about 800 stories about the fire, whose consequences are ongoing.

The Journal has won four Pulitzer prizes, the last in 1994 for investigative reporting for a series on corruption in Rhode Island's court system.