Ah, to be in B’ham in the early to mid-1990s

YardleySo I’ve been thinking about the Pulitzer Prizes that were awarded Monday. My first thought is that Jim Yardley (pictured at right in front of his suburban Beijing pad; I cropped myself out of the photo) is my hero. He arrived in China just a couple of years ago, in his first foreign posting, in as far as I know his first-ever extended stay overseas. When I was in Beijing last spring I was blown away to see him (and his wife, Theo) already yakking away in Chinese with cab drivers and restaurateurs.

Then came the series of articles that won him (and Joe Kahn, but it’s Jim’s stuff that I remember) the Pulitzer — riveting tales of the utterly screwy workings of the Chinese legal system, reported and written with a vividness that makes somebody who makes a living as a reporter want to bow down and chant, “I am not worthy, I am not worthy.” The things were really good.

But that’s not the main point of this post. The main point is that Jim lived down the street from me in Birmingham, Alabama in the early to mid-1990s, reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I was working at The Birmingham News. So was Terri Troncale, now the editorial page editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The Times-Picayune was inexplicably not even a finalist for the editorial writing prize (dudes, did you even read the letter to the president?), but Terri was the leader of the posse of T-P journalists who stuck it out in New Orleans in the hours and days after Katrina hit and won the paper a breaking news Pulitzer (as well as the public service award, shared with the Biloxi Sun Herald, whose editor was also in Alabama — Mobile, not Birmingham — in the early to mid-1990s). Finally, there was the News editorial page, where Terri and I once worked, and now edited by our friend Bob Blalock, which was a finalist in editorial writing for its remarkable series disavowing the death penalty.

I’ve long been plagued — like a lot of people, I’m sure — by the sense that I missed out on spending my formative years where really exciting things were happening: Paris in the 1920s, New York in the 1940s and 1950s, San Francisco in the late 1960s (I was actually there, at least in the burbs, but much too young to appreciate it), Prague in the early 1990s. But there I was in the early to mid-1990s breeding ground of this year’s Pulitzer winners, working for perhaps the greatest editorial page editor in the history of editorial page editors, the late Ron Casey, alongside amazing people like Terri and Harold Jackson and Joey Kennedy (Ron, Harold, and Joey won the 1991 editorial writing Pulitzer). Plus I met the girl of my dreams there. I’ve clearly got nothing to complain about.

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