Journalists with Pulitzers have U-M ties

By Paula Saha

Carollo and FrenchThe U-M showed well in one of the country's most prestigious writing competitions when Russell Carollo, a 1990 Michigan Journalism Fellow now with the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, and Tom French, a 1991 Livingston award-winner with the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, took Pulitzer prizes this year.

"Wallace House operates two professional recognition programs for journalists, and they complement each other nicely," explains Charles Eisendrath, founding director of the Livingstons and director of the Michigan Journalism Fellows Program. "The Livingstons are designed to identify a very high promise very early, and the Fellowships give talented people a place to stretch and grow in an academic setting."

The Fellowship program allows professional journalists to take time off from their journalistic careers to study for one year at the University in any area they wish.

Carollo, who focused on First Amendment rights and writing, credits the Fellowship program with having given him a "more global view."

"I really think I improved my writing, taking time out and looking at really good writing--I had time to look up obscure stuff and study things I would never be able to while working," Carollo says.

Carollo won this year's Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for a story examining how the military healthcare system lacks safeguards found in the civilian system.

While working in Spokane, Wash., Corollo came across the story of a military doctor who was accused of molesting several of his patients. The state medical board was unable to revoke the doctor's certification because he was not certified by tem--he was certified by the state of Texas, which had no jurisdiction. As it turns out, military doctors do not need to be certified in the state where they practice.

"[Military] doctors are virtually immune from being sued by their patients," Carollo explains.

He began investigating the system, believing that "any standards that much below civilian standards would result in hurting a lot of people." Carollo also had a hunch that such a system would attract doctors with problems practicing in a civilian system. According to Carollo, both assumptions bore out.

This is the second consecutive year that a former Fellow has won a Pulitzer. Last year, Mike Vitez, a 1994-95 Fellow, won in the category of Explanatory Journalism.

French won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing with "Angels & Demons," the story of an Ohio mother and two daughters murdered while on vacation in Florida. The piece fell into a writing genre termed "serial narrative."

"Serial narratives are where writers take a story, go into a lot of depth, and then tell it like an old-fashioned story--step by step--and the readers don't know how it's going to end," explains French. "It's one story split into different chapters."

The story is more than a feature about a murder, says French. "It's about what happens to someone when you lose your whole family that way, about Florida's place in the national imagination. It's about faith--what keeps people going when they're dealing with something so horrific."

French, who won his Livingston for an earlier serial narrative titled "South of Heaven," called winning the Livingston "wonderful encouragement," saying that it gave him the validation to continue working on serial narratives. "A lot of people don't think newspapers should be doing that sort of thing. The support and encouragement of having won that award, and having been in that company [at the awards presentation] was invaluable."

According to Eisendrath, the Livingstons are the largest and only all-media general reporting prize in the country, awarding three $10,000 prizes in local, national and international reporting to media professionals under the age of 35.