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Pulitzer prizes

The Kansas City Star has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and a special citation during its 125-year history.

1931 — Reporting

In 1930, reporter A.B. Macdonald got a call from a Texas newspaper. A mysterious murder had baffled police, and the investigation was stalled.

Macdonald went to Amarillo, where a woman had been killed in a crime with no apparent motive or clues. A lawyer who also had been a traveling salesman before he turned to reporting, Macdonald had a reputation for possessing a “sixth sense” of observation. Soon after Macdonald went to work, the victim’s husband confessed and then committed suicide.

Macdonald won the 1931 Pulitzer for reporting. Already 69 years old when he won the award, Macdonald died in 1942.

1933 — Editorial writing

Under the leadership of editor Henry J. Haskell, who visited Europe to confer with government leaders, The Star’s editorial staff wrote about subjects as varied as international trade and the Lindbergh kidnapping. In 1933, the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

Columbia University’s announcement of the prize stated: “Throughout the year The Star maintained consistently a policy of educating and advising its readers, always with the hope that in the end an informed public opinion would crystallize into sound public action.”

1944 — Editorial writing

Just 11 years after leading the staff to a Pulitzer for editorial writing, Editor Henry J. Haskell won it himself in 1944.

The son of missionaries, Haskell spent three of his teenage years in Bulgaria, helping give him an instinct for European affairs. His editorials in the 1930s warned of the coming of World War II and urged preparedness. As a result, when war came to America, The Star did not have to backpedal, as many isolationist newspapers did.

Haskell was still editor when he died in 1952 at age 78, ending a 54-year career at The Star.

1952 — Special citation

On Friday the 13th of July 1951, the Kansas River roared over 33-foot flood walls at its junction with the Missouri River. Water devastated rail yards, stockyards, shops and factories in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., climbing as high as 40 feet in places. By the time the flood receded, 41 persons were dead and 100,000 had been driven from their homes. Damage totaled $1 billion.

For 80 hours The Star’s editors, reporters and photographers worked around the clock. In 1952 The Star received a special citation from the Pulitzer board for coverage of the flood.

1954 — Local reporting

In 1953 reporter Alvin McCoy wrote about the connection between the Republican national chairman and the sale of an insurance company building to the state of Kansas. The chairman, Wesley C. Roberts, received a fee of $10,000, which raised the issue of whether he violated state lobbying laws. The story led to an investigation by the state and the resignation of Roberts.

McCoy’s work brought him the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. He retired in 1968 after working 37 years at The Star, and died at age 84 in 1988.

1982 — General local reporting

In 1982, both The Star and its sister publication, The Kansas City Times, won a Pulitzer for general local reporting for coverage of the Hyatt Regency hotel sky walks collapse.

The tragedy, which occurred during a dance on July 17, 1981, killed 114 persons. In their broad coverage of the event the newspapers used such innovative approaches as hiring professional engineers to evaluate the collapse. As a result, within four days The Star exposed a design change in construction of the skywalks that national investigators later pinpointed as the chief cause of the collapse.

1982 — National reporting

Rick Atkinson was only 29 years old when he won a Pulitzer for national reporting.

Atkinson joined The Kansas City Times in 1977 and became the newspaper’s first national correspondent in 1979. Atkinson’s work that led to the Pulitzer included a series of stories about the nation’s diminishing water supply and another series the same year about the 15th anniversary reunion of the West Point Class of 1966.

Atkinson went on to a successful career as an author and as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post.

1992 — National reporting

The newspaper won its second Pulitzer for national reporting for “Failing the Grade: Betrayals and Blunders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” The award went to reporters Jeff Taylor and Mike McGraw for a seven-part series, reported and written over 16 months. Reporters Michael Mansur and Gregory S. Reeves and photographer Tammy Ljungblad also contributed.

The series, which sparked congressional investigations and reforms, exposed waste and flawed policy-making in USDA programs set up to distribute farm payments, inspect and label meat, protect the environment and serve minority farmers.