Schoofs’ Pulitzer-Winning Series Took Major Commitment

Six and half months and 28,000 words were expended.

Is $17,000 too much to pay for the knowledge that awareness of a global problem has been increased as a result of your work? Village Voice Editor in Chief Donald Forst didn’t think so, which is why he agreed to spend that much to fund staff writer Mark Schoofs’ 28,000-word, eight-part series on the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Turns out that Forst’s investment paid off in other ways as well: On Monday, Schoofs’ series, which was published late last year, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.

Schoofs spent six and a half months in Africa researching and writing the article, three months of which he was indisposed due to malaria. He took all but one of the photographs in the series.

Forst told AAN News that he agreed to the series idea immediately, and was amazed that not only had Schoofs broken down the budget to the penny, but that he stuck to it, despite the three-month illness. Says Forst, “[Schoofs] is a great reporter. He’s a very good writer, but he’s a greatreporter.”

The Pulitzer Board called Schoofs’ series “provocative and enlightening.”

“AIDS: The Agony of Africa” is the longest series the Voice has published in Forst’s three and a half-year tenure at the Voice. However, Forst says all of the attention and interest generated by the Pulitzer will not increase the likelihood that he will greenlight more long series or international investigations. “I’d just be inspired to do good journalism — whether it’s 1000 words or 25,000 — which we were doing before,” he says. “We feel honored to have received the award, but it doesn’t affect the kind of things we have done or will do in the future.”

Nevertheless, Forst says that winning the Pulitzer helps level the playing field between the Village Voice and its daily newspaper competition. “We’re the same paper we were before the award. By winning, it just knocked out a lot of naysayers, which I think bodes well for us and for other alternatives.”

Schoofs’ series earned the Voice its third Pulitzer Prize. Teresa Carpenter won the first in 1981 for feature writing, and in 1986, Jules Feiffer won for his political cartooning. The only other AAN paper to win a Pulitzer is the Boston Phoenix, which in 1994 for Lloyd Schwartz’s classical music criticism.

Schoofs, 37, has covered science and medicine for the Voice since 1995. According to the Voice, Schoofs was previously the editor in chief of Windy City Times, a gay and lesbian publication in Chicago. He has been writing about AIDS for 13 years.

“It is a testament to the Village Voice that once I proposed this series on AIDS, the editors did not hesitate for a nanosecond,” Schoofs said in a press release issued by the Voice. “I had the paper’s full support, and they did everything in their power to help me do the job.”

Schoofs added, “Even though I have covered AIDS for 13 years, nothing prepared me for the devastation the disease has caused in Africa. It’s the worst catastrophe since slavery. The fact that the Village Voice, an alternative newspaper, could make this kind of impact sends out a message: Anyone anywhere can do their part to help end this crisis.”

Schoofs has said that he will donate half of the $5000 Pulitzer Prize award money to AIDS organizations based in Africa.

Schoofs’ work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Esquire, the Advocate and the Paris Courier International. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Science Journalism prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his 1997 Voice series on genetics. Other organizations that have recognized Schoofs’ work are the Deadline Club and the New York and Chicago chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Yale University. He also holds two U.S. patents, one for a swimming fin and the other for a swimming paddle.

Schoofs wasn’t the only Pulitzer winner with alternative connections. The Washington Post was awarded the Public Service Pulitzer for former Washington City Paper Managing Editor Katherine Boo’s investigation into the abuse and neglect of mentally retarded adults in the city’s group homes. Boo has been an investigative reporter for the Post since 1993.

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