In May 1904, Joseph Pulitzer, creator of the coveted Pulitzer Prize, wrote: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve [the] public virtue…The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
Pulitzer, a journalist who fought governmental corruption and was one of the first to promote teaching journalism at a university level, believed journalism was a noble field. Journalism, he said, “is one of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people.” He strove to attract people to the profession and help them remain moral and responsible in their work. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize was born.
Pulitzer created the Prize to award those who met expectations of moral and responsible journalism, but the standards for the awards were high. If no paper met these standards, awards were simply not given that year. The Prize was given in 1938, however, and on this day in 1938, the Bismarck Tribune announced the good news.
The Bismarck Tribune was given the 1938 Pulitzer for “the most disinterested and meritorious public service rendered by any American newspaper during the year 1937.” This Public Service award was given specifically for the Tribune’s self-help column, “Self Help for the Dust Bowl,” written by Kenneth W. Simons and researched by Gordon MacGregor. Ultimately it was MacGregor who submitted the Tribune articles and editorials to the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Begun in 1933 by Tribune editor George D. Mann, “Self Help for the Dust Bowl” concentrated on aiding farmers in the Depression-ravaged Slope area. The column was based on the theory that, “if we are to expect help from others, we must show a willingness to help ourselves. The Tribune has resented the state of dependency into which circumstance has forced much of this state. It has looked for a way out. It believes it has found it in the practices of water conservation, range management, soil conservation and a better balanced agriculture—an agriculture more suited to this region than that which settlers brought with them from more humid districts.”
Simons’ keystone was the need for irrigation development and the diversification of the state’s economy. Much of Simons’ research came from MacGregor, who “was tireless in [his] work. He roamed up and down the western part of the state probing, talking and writing…..the punishment he inflicted on himself was immense….to him the vision was very real.” One vision became reality when the State Water Commission was created in 1937.
Both Simons and MacGregor were described as men of vision. Their concentration was aimed primarily at building a stronger North Dakota during the time of economic Depression. Yet, as North Dakota continually develops and diversifies its economy today, it is easy to see that this vision continued well past those years and the year when Simons helped prove his newspaper and staff were worthy of the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
Dakota Datebook written by Tessa Sandstrom
“The Pulitzer Prize.” http://www.pulitzer.org/
“The Bismarck Tribune Centennial Edition—1923-1948: Tribune Makes the Headlines,” Bismarck Tribune. July 11, 1973.
“The Bismarck Tribune Centennial Edition—1923-1948: Simons: ‘A Man of Vision’,” Bismarck Tribune. July 11, 1973: 1C.
“Tribune Wins Pulitzer Service Award,” Bismarck Tribune. May 3, 1938: 1.