Times Receives Pulitzer Prize -- Alaska Spill Stories, Oil Tanker Series Win Reporting Honors

The Seattle Times today won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for its coverage of last year's Alaska oil spill and a series on oil-tanker safety.

The Pulitzer, announced at noon PDT, was specifically awarded in the names of reporters Ross Anderson, Bill Dietrich, Mary Ann Gwinn and Eric Nalder. Dozens of Times staffers were involved in the coverage, which began immediately after the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound March 24, 1989.

Over the next nine months, The Times ran hundreds of stories, photos and graphics on the spill, its aftermath and its implications for the Northwest.

The Times newsroom erupted in shouts and cheers today as the word came from The Associated Press. Dozens of staffers had huddled around video display terminals for 10 agonizing minutes as the awards were announced one at a time.

Bottles of champagne surfaced, and before long the reporters and various editors were soaked.

Gwinn, one of the reporters honored, said, ``An incredible amount of emotional energy went into this. We all love this area and it was our story. It was the worst thing that could have happened to our area, and we felt a commitment to tell the story.''

Dietrich shared credit with the rest of the staff.

``When I was up there I didn't know what was going on,'' Dietrich said of the newspaper's effort. ``But when I got back and saw all the various staffers who had something in the paper I thought it was really impressive.

``I hope you all feel this is your Pulitzer.''

Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher said: ``This is a thrilling moment for The Seattle Times and the staff members who covered the Alaska oil spill. We felt our coverage served readers well by going beyond the basics of what had happened and what was being done about it. This award adds an extra measure of pride for all of us.

``The accident occurred 1,500 miles from Seattle, but we regarded it as a local story because the Puget Sound area has deep historical, cultural and economic ties to Alaska.

``Our wish would be that the reporting we did will help prevent such disasters in the future.''

David Boardman, the assistant city editor who directed the project, said he had ``never seen anybody work harder and with more emotional energy'' than Anderson, Dietrich, Gwinn and Nalder had on these stories.

In awarding the prize, the Pulitzer judges combined two Times entries in the national-reporting category: one, in the names of Anderson, Dietrich and Gwinn, for overall coverage of the spill, and the other for Nalder's series on the dangers of transporting oil by tanker.

Boardman said that although the Pulitzer rules specified only three staff members could be named in each contest entry, the prize ``truly was won by the

entire newspaper.''

He specifically cited several people who played key roles: Rick Zahler, Kathy Andrisevic and Ginny Merdes, who helped with the story editing; reporters Jack Broom, Susan Gilmore, James Lalonde, Peter Lewis, David Schaefer and Jim Simon; photographers Craig Fujii, Greg Gilbert and Harley Soltes; graphic artists Christine Cox, Celeste Ericsson, Randee Fox, James McFarlane, Greg Rasa and Marian Wachter; photo editors Fred Nelson, Dean Rutz and Gary Settle; and copy editors Roger Kuechler.

The Pulitzer is the fifth won by The Seattle Times. The last, in the category of feature writing, was awarded in 1984 to reporter Peter Rinearson for ``Making It Fly,'' a series on the birth of the 757 jet airliner.

Earlier Times Pulitzers were won by Paul Henderson, Jerry Gay and Ed Guthman.

Henderson won for local investigative reporting in 1982 for a series of stories that kept a man from being sent to prison for a rape he didn't commit.

Gay won for spot-news photography in 1975 for a photo of four exhausted firefighters.

Guthman received his Pulitzer for national reporting in 1950 for a series that cleared a University of Washington professor of charges that he was a communist.

The only other Washington state newspaper ever to receive a Pulitzer Prize was the Longview Daily News, which won in 1981 for its coverage of the Mount St. Helens eruption.