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Pulitzer win sends message.

Sometimes, you strike a nerve." So begins one of Mark Mahoney's editorials on freedom of information and open government--editorials that won him this year's Pulitzer Prize.

Writing "sunshine" editorials posed a challenge: 3-hey risk sounding preachy and self-serving, landing on readers with what Mark himself called "a resounding thud." Mark's approach, featuring hard-hitting editorials and a sizzling blog, broke the mold. His commentary from the citizen's point of view--down to earth, specific, convincing, passionate--caught the Pulitzer jurors' attention.

His is the first Pulitzer for The Post-Star (circulation 34,000) in Glens Falls, a small city in the foothills of New York's Adirondack Mountains. "The best response has been from the town--people are so excited about this," Mark said over the phone. "It's about small-town papers beating the big guys, showing what we can do. The whole community is excited."

Mark, 45, joined the paper as a reporter in 1988, became an editor and migrated to the editorial page. He's a friendly bear of a man with an easy laugh and a way of casting a wary eye on the unfolding scene. He runs a one-man shop with the active support of editor Ken Tingley, citizen representative Nancy Fitzpatrick, and publisher Rick Emanuel.

In his Pulitzer portfolio, Mark sounded the alarm against a gag order on members of the Warrensburg Board of Education, and "confidentiality agreements" that seal information about tax reassessments from public view. After his editorials challenged secrecy over contract terms for teachers in Fort Edward, the state legislature in Albany took up a measure that would require public access to negotiated labor agreements prior to board approval.

Mark's win sends some powerful messages. "This is for all the small newspapers out there that never got to play in the game," says editor Tingley, who originally persuaded a reluctant Mark to go for the Pulitzer.

While Mark's Your Right to Know blog was not an official part of his Pulitzer entry (could this be its own category some day?), it enriched his editorials and is a model and resource as blogging moves front-and-center in editorial shops. (Find Mark's blog at www.poststar.com/blogs/?cat=50. For a great blogging primer, see the Spring 2009 Masthead Symposium.)

Mahoney managed to "strike a nerve" by alerting bloggers to their right--and drawing out their own tales of being denied access. "Every citizen has a right to public records" he wrote.

More charitably, Mark also wrote that "many public officials deeply share and respect the public's right to know. I try to focus on the positive, encourage people to make changes. It doesn't have to be us versus them always."

Recruiting readers and bloggers to the cause of open government, Mark has struck a blow for democracy--and for the editorial mission in the community. Now he's thrilled to think publicity from his Pulitzer award will aid the cause.

The temporary distraction of that "big award" drew Mark away from his duties, and on the phone he sounded eager to get back in editorial harness. "The reason I haven't been able to write anything is that I haven't been mad," he said. "I've gotten so many congratulations that I'm not in a bad mood" He laughed. "Have they ruined me as an editorial writer?"

NCEW trouper that he is, Mark quickly reconsidered. "I'm getting it back," he said, referring to his righteous indignation. "There's always something to be mad at, something that needs to be addressed."

Fred Fiske is senior editorial writer for The Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York. Email ffiske@syracuse.com
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Title Annotation:Mark Mahoney's editorials
Author:Fiske, Fred
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Words:590
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