The terrorist attacks that shook the world on September 11 have
dominated every aspect of American society since that Tuesday morning,
and the country's top journalism awards were no exception. Eight
of this year's 14 Pulitzer Prizes went to work related to terrorism
and the war in Afghanistan.
As part of the eight-member Washington Post team that earned the
national reporting award, Barton Gellman '82 was honored for his
reporting on the U.S.'s failed efforts in recent years to capture
or kill Osama Bin Laden.
Winning an award for work spurred by the violent deaths of thousands
is not something Gellman a finalist for America's top journalism
prize twice before takes lightly.
"We're always building our best work on tragedy," said
Gellman, who taught a seminar at Princeton this spring as a Ferris
Professor of Journalism. "Journalism is mainly about conflict.
Anytime that your work is honored you have this feeling that you're
somehow benefiting from something awful, but you also hope that
you're making it more understandable to readers or exposing something
that needs attention."
Gellman currently serves as a special projects reporter at the
Post's New York bureau and has been working at the newspaper since
garnering a summer internship is his first year of graduate school
at Oxford University, where he studied politics as a Rhodes Scholar.
As he tells it, though, Gellman's career at the Post, which has
included award-winning coverage of Washington, D.C., mayor Marion
Barry's cocaine trial, the African AIDS epidemic, the Pentagon,
and Jerusalem, began quite inauspiciously. "I was a two-time
reject," he jokes, explaining that he was twice denied the
coveted internship during his Princeton days at the Woodrow Wilson
Luckily for the Post, Gellman is not one to take no for an answer.
"He's a dogged reporter and an amazing writer. He's probably
one of the top two or three reporters at the Post," said Michael
Abramowitz, a national editor for the newspaper. "He's really
meticulous and exhaustive. If he's going to do a story about terrorism,
he'll take an academic approach to his subject matter. He really
wants to control it. You can tell from his stories that he really
knows his subjects."
Some of that doggedness was developed on campus, where the Philadelphia
native cut his teeth as part of an investigative team that paired
Gellman with Joel Achenbach '82, who is also at the Post as a national
staff writer and columnist. Gellman credits Peter Elkind '80, his
Prince editor at the time with helping him learn how to cover a
news beat, which at the time for Gellman was a campus labor dispute.
"That was where I really learned how to cover a running story,"
Gellman says. "You're not writing about something just once.
You keep coming back and coming back, you learn to find different
dimensions of the story, different angles."
Elkind, now a senior writer at Fortune magazine says Gellman was
full of raw talent and mature beyond his years when he started at
the Prince. But since those days, Elkind says Gellman's career choices
demonstrate that he cared about his craft and was willing to pay
"There was a moment when he could've zoomed ahead and skipped
a lot of steps. He chose not to, went to the Post and covered the
D.C. courts. That's classic nitty-gritty daily reporting. He erased
what could have been a question mark about him: "Did he pay
his dues?" I think he did that consciously, which was pretty
remarkable for his age," Elkind says.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Gellman and his wife, Tracy,
are raising triplets in New York City, according to his former Literature
of Fact professor and fellow Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee '53.
"All these other accomplishments come after that," says