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The Pulitzer Prize And The State of Jefferson

Winning the Pulitzer was traditionally a career making event for a newspaper reporter. And a real point of pride for the newspaper that employed the writer.

It used to be simple, you won the Pulitzer. There were four original awards in journalism: reporting, public service, editorial writing, and a once granted award for the best newspaper history writing.

As with so many prestigious awards, however, and in keeping with Joseph Pulitzer’s will and wishes, the categories were broadened, diluted, and made great in number.

It’s the same way with the Oscars. Everyone in the film trade must now get an Oscar or be eligible for one.

The 1941 film Citizen Kane deftly showed the tumultuous era of big city newspapers. Back when a Pulitzer Prize truly meant something to a beat reporter. There was just one category for them: reporting.

In 1941 Stanton Delaplane (internal link) won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the nascent State of Jefferson, a political movement and a state of mind that continues to be in the news to this day. (external link)

As in Citizen Kane, with the character Charles Foster Kane often making up a story to make up the news, Delaplane played a major role in creating the story of The State of Jefferson.

In late 1941, Delaplane was assigned by the San Francisco Chronicle to visit far northern California and southern Oregon. Word was that a group of rebel counties were planning to secede from California and Oregon to form the State of Jefferson. The chief proponent, Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, a former high-powered advertising man, was itching to stir the pot of separatism. And Delaplane was eager to help.

Delaplane filed stories of road blockades being set up, complete with photographs showing men with rifles handing out Jefferson State leaflets and proclamations. But some photos were staged. Delaplane’s fiancé Miriam Moore posed in two photographs as a San Francisco tourist, resplendent in her full length fur coat, with nary a mention of her relation to Delaplane.

Gilbert and Delaplane brainstormed ideas for stories, at least one session fueled by heavy drinking. Gilbert and his cronies stood to land governing jobs in this new state. Acting on these conversations and the true anger he found in ordinary citizens, Delaplane quickly spun a number of articles in the best tradition of Mark Twain or Hunter S. Thompson. The least factual story and yet the most accurate. And for that, he bagged the Pulitzer.

Where can you read those articles? You can’t. Not online. Not yet. The Chronicle hasn’t digitized much of their content from the late 1920s through the 1960s. The original newspapers have so deteriorated with age that it makes OCR work nearly impossible. When I looked into the Delaplane archives kept at the California State Library in Sacramento, it seemed that it would be faster to retype the articles than scan them and then correct the results.

Never-the-less, I did manage to make good three of his articles but I’d need to go back to the Library to complete the task. If any serious researcher wants to see what I’ve found, let me know. As the State of Jefferson continues to be in the news, I think it’s important to get its founding correct. Who knows? Maybe you’ll win a Pulitzer Prize.

Reporting (1917-1947)

Local Reporting – Edition time (1953-1963)
Local General or Spot News Reporting (1964-1984)
General News Reporting (1985-1990)
Spot News Reporting (1991-1997)
Local Reporting – No edition time (1953-1963)
Local Investigative Specialized Reporting (1964-1984)
Explanatory Journalism (1985-1997)
Specialized Reporting (1985-1990)
Beat Reporting (1991-2006)
Correspondence (1929-1947)
Telegraphic Reporting – National (1942-1947)
Telegraphic Reporting – International (1942-1947)
Criticism or Commentary (1970-1972)
Photography (1942-1967)
Spot News Photography (1968-1999)
Newspaper History Award (1918)

Current Categories

Public Service (1917-present)
Breaking News Reporting (1998-present)
Investigative Reporting (1985-present)
Explanatory Reporting (1998-present)
Local Reporting (1948-1952, 2007-present)
National Reporting (1948-present)
International Reporting (1948-present)
Feature Writing (1979-present)
Commentary (1973-present)
Criticism (1973-present)
Editorial Writing (1917-present)
Editorial Cartooning (1922-present)
Breaking News Photography (2000-present)
Feature Photography (1968-present)
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