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June 5, 2002:

Barton Gellman '82 wins Pulitzer

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 School.

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 his dues.

"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 McPhee.