Friday, May 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
A dozen years back, this company decided to expand its media beyond the scope of the daily Las Vegas Sun that it had published for half a century. Our plan was to create a new family of publications that would meet or exceed the quality of newspapers or magazines found anywhere else in the nation.
It was the right time and place. In 1997, when we began publishing the city’s first monthly general-interest magazine, only a few other publications in our community were respected for their content. Back then, with only a couple exceptions, the Southern Nevada publishing turf was largely divided between our Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
But reporters and editors are competitive when it comes to news, and knowing how busy modern lives are, we saw all the other print media as rivals for our readers’ time and attention. In fact, our editorial staffs even felt some gentler and friendlier internal competition with their brethren at the Sun, although this was purely imaginary, since the Sun had high-profile leadership and a daily publishing cycle for almost a half-century prior.
Our real focus was in scooping the guys across town and, along the way, in putting out the highest-quality newspapers and magazines we could.
With time, we got some traction. Soon, the quality of our work started to get noticed by our peers on regional and national levels. This is an industry that has its share of contests, and we began to start winning some.
Thus began a new era for Las Vegas journalism. Until then, this city had not been known for the quality or depth of its magazines and weekly newspapers — the targeted kinds of publications that our group was now publishing.
Inside the publishing industry, this new recognition created a commotion. At banquets where we were announced as winners, onlookers from other cities expressed true surprise at watching a Las Vegas publication win the award.
Maybe you see where this is headed. Along with a few other things, journalism is one more area in which Americans have mistaken perceptions of what it is like to live or work in Las Vegas. And some Americans assume that the world’s best-known party town could not possibly have a strong or vigilant press keeping an eye on things. It doesn’t fit the image they have of us, and it is just too difficult for many to believe.
Our local media community took a giant step closer to making them believers on April 20, when the Las Vegas Sun took journalism awards to a higher level than anyone in Southern Nevada had ever known.
On that day, a series of stories and editorials about deaths at the CityCenter construction site earned the Sun the Pulitzer Prize — in fact, the most prestigious of all the Pulitzer Prizes, the one bestowed for public service. The one that gets the gold medal. The top award in journalism, and the first Pulitzer ever given to a Las Vegas publication. It was for work done by staff writer Alexandra Berzon and opinion writers Matt Hufman and David Clayton.
I am not even in the same building with the Sun. But today, even from across the street, I bask in the Sun’s reflected pride. All of the people near me are doing so, as well. In fact, a Pulitzer is big enough that even the guys across town took notice, running both a wire story and congratulatory editorial in their Review-Journal, briefly transcending our longtime rivalry, evidence of the magnitude of this achievement.
The recognition went beyond that. In the days that followed, I witnessed firsthand that people well outside this company or this industry were proud of the prize the Sun team had brought to our city — a place that in some people’s minds is not supposed to and could not possibly have a free and aggressive press keeping an eye on things. It even drew cheers at one gathering of about 300 people I attended.
So you see, Berzon, Hufman and Clayton might even deserve a second award for helping with the self-esteem of Las Vegas at a time when we need the boost.
A couple days after the Pulitzers were announced, James Rainey wrote about it for the Los Angeles Times. He noted that the big papers on the East Coast picked up a couple Pulitzers, as they historically have. And then he wrote:
“The Pulitzer Prize for public service went not to those blockbuster, brand-name finalists but, instead, to a little newspaper hardly anybody’s heard of, published in a town nobody associates with the search for truth.”
Bruce Spotleson is group publisher of In Business Las Vegas.