Tag Archives: Pulitzer Prize

Remembering Greg Katz

Gregory Katz — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, noted raconteur, lover of music and baseball and cigars, and longtime (though sometimes part-time) Westporter — died yesterday in London.

He was 67 years old. He had been ill with cancer for several months, and contracted COVID-19.

Greg Katz, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

He made his first headlines not as a writer, but as an athlete. In 1970 Katz — a Staples High School junior, an excellent catcher and the proud possessor of a head of shoulder length, curly hair — petitioned the Staples Governing Board to remove dress code restrictions on athletes. He called them “arbitrary standards of appearance,” which exacerbated social divisions at the school.

After an intense debate, the measure passed 11-6. Katz was free to try out for the team coached by  Brian Kelley, an ex-Marine who still looked the part.

After the University of Vermont, traveling throughout Latin America and writing for the Provincetown Advocate, Katz was in New York City in December 1980.

John Lennon was shot inside the Dakota. Katz’s parents — who owned a home across from what is now Joey’s By the Shore (Elvira’s), where Katz grew up — also had an apartment there.

Katz was the only journalist who could enter the building. He interviewed, among others, the doorman who was witnessed the murder. His story ran in Rolling Stone magazine — the famous edition with Annie Liebovitz’s photo of a naked Lennon and Yoko Ono on the cover.

After writing for USA Today and serving as Latin America bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News (and earning a share of the 1994 Pulitzer for international reporting, with a 14-part series on violence against women around the world) as well as Europe and Middle East bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, he joined the Associated Press in London. In 2013 he was named acting bureau chief. He also appeared frequently on the BBC’s “Dateline London.”

He wrote about popes, politics, refugees and Queen Elizabeth. But he returned to Westport every summer, spending many weeks in a house he and his wife Bea Sennewald owned on Saugatuck Shores, with their daughter Sophia.

Katz loved those summers. He learned to sail at Longshore, and owned a kayak that he often paddled to Cockenoe.

Greg Katz (Photo/Bill Armstrong)

He went to as many baseball games as he could, too. (Of course, he loved covering the Yankees-Red Sox game in London last year.)

He and Bea hosted friends from everywhere, including some of the most noted journalists on the planet. He spent many happy hours on his deck, watching the water and nature.

Neighbor Bill Armstrong said, “His one great fear was that he’d be enjoying his Westport summer — but would get the dreaded call that Her Majesty The Queen had passed away. Greg would then have to rush back to London and spend weeks covering the state funeral and the coronation of Charles.”

Several times a summer, I joined him for breakfast at the Sherwood Diner. He asked about Westport; in turn, he’d chat about his work, covering the latest crisis in the Mideast or Parliament. He was not dropping names; he was describing his life, and what he loved (and hated) about it.

Greg Katz (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The AP’s story on his death quotes Anne-Marie O’Connor, a London-based journalist and author, who covered Haiti and Cuba with Katz in the 1990s. She said, “in addition to being a wonderfully curious reporter, Greg could be riotously funny, and his sense of humor elevated the esprit de corps of his colleagues on the road.”

Ian Phillips, AP’s international news director, described him as a “suave, waistcoat-wearing, straw boater-wearing, gravelly-voice gent … an American abroad but my God how he assimilated! … He managed to capture so much about British society in his writing — the nuance, the singularity, the humor, the tradition.”

He was “a bon vivant” with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and baseball, added Richard Boudreaux, of the Wall Street Journal. “He could recite the starting lineup of just about any Yankees team going back to the late 1950s, when he was only a kid.”

Greg never lost that “kid” spirit. He had it on the Staples baseball team, and at Woodstock. He had it wherever he wrote, around the globe.

And of course right here by the water, in his home town of Westport.

(For the AP obituary of Greg Katz, click here. For an “06880” story on Greg Katz’s coverage of Brexit, click here.)

Greg Katz

And The Pulitzer Prize For Explanatory Reporting Goes To …

… Harry Stevens of the Washington Post.

Well, he was part of a team of writers, photographers, researchers and (his specialty) graphic designers who contributed to this year’s prestigious award.

“2°C: Beyond the Limit” — a series on climate change — “fundamentally reshaped the climate debate by showing that extreme warming is not a worry for the future,” the Post said in a story about the Pulitzer. “10 percent of the planet has already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius.”

The paper employed reporting from a dozen global hot spots. The series included “vast datasets to help readers visualize our rapidly warming planet.”

Stevens — a 2004 Staples High School graduate — co-authored a piece about how we know global warming is real.

He posted on Facebook at the time:

The idea that the planet is getting hotter is not based on computer models or some kind of fancy voodoo science. It’s actually much simpler than that: readings from thousands of thermometers, many of which have been around for centuries. When scientists wanted to figure out if global warming was real or not, they went out and collected all those thermometers’ recordings.

My coworkers and I wrote about those thermometers and how they are being used today to monitor a disaster that could scarcely have been foreseen by 19th-century meteorologists, but which now constitutes the single most significant fact about the planet’s environment.

He was involved in all aspect of the story: analyzing temperature data, making maps, interviewing scientists and archivists, tracking down a 3D model of an Alpine weather observatory, framing and writing the narrative, and more. The story occupied most of his time for the first several months after he joined the Post.

Harry Stevens (Photo/ Sarah L. Voisin for The Washington Post)

For other stories, he built the spinning globes that locate where in the world the stories take place, and he created a map for a story about Australia.

“But the series had already been launched when I joined the Post,” he says modestly. “So the credit for the idea and execution goes to my brilliant colleagues.”

If Stevens’ name sounds familiar to Westporters: It is. In March — right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis — “06880” profiled his work on the Post‘s interactive, ever-changing simulation of how the virus can spread throughout a population.

His “data journalism” drew worldwide attention. Who knows? That story might draw the attention of the judges a year from now, when they meet to award the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

Tyler Hicks Gets “Fresh Air”

Terry Gross brings out the best in everyone she interviews.

Today the gently probing, always insightful “Fresh Air” host sat down with Tyler Hicks.

Tyler Hicks

Tyler Hicks

The New York Times photographer — a Westport native and 1988 Staples graduate — spoke about a variety of topics, from the back story of his Pulitzer Prize-winning shots of last year’s Nairobi mall massacre to being kidnapped in Libya with fellow Times photographer (and Staples grad) Lynsey Addario.

He also talked about performing CPR on Anthony Shadid, after the Times reporter suffered an asthma attack while sneaking across the Turkey-Syria border. Hicks said that telling Shadid’s wife and young son what had happened was “the saddest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

When Gross asked Hicks how covering war has affected him, he referenced Compo Beach:

Not long after [an assignment in Afghanistan] I was back in the states, I was in Connecticut with my sister and we were just going for a run. We were down by the beach in my hometown and there was some work being done on a house and there was a hydraulic nail gun that they were using and it really sounds a lot like incoming gunfire with this thing.

As we were running they put a few nails in and I literally almost hit the ground and my sister’s reaction was like, “Oh my God, you should look at yourself, man. You totally thought you were just being shot at.”

And it’s true; you can’t deny that that’s a natural protective instinct that you gain through these things.

A commenter on the “Fresh Air” website wrote: “This story should remind us that there are indeed real journalists still out there risking everything so that we may see what is happening on this crazy, beautiful, dangerous, delicious little planet of ours.”

To hear the entire interview, read excerpts and view some of Hicks’ photos, click here.

Plainclothes officers rushed into the mall and Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside and fearing not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 22, 2013)

Plainclothes officers rushed into the Westgate mall. Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside. He feared not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 22, 2013)