Pioneer Press celebrates third Pulitzer Prize: Dohrmann's award follows reports on academic fraud

Author: By Matt Peiken and Kay Harvey, Staff Writers

Tuesday, April 11, 2000
p. Cheers and champagne filled the St. Paul Pioneer Press newsroom on Monday as the newspaper celebrated its third Pulitzer Prize.p. Sports reporter George Dohrmann claimed journalism’s top honor for coverage of academic fraud within the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program. Dohrmann, 27, won in the beat reporting category. Other finalists in the category were from the New York Times and Washington Post.p. ``I hope everybody here realizes it’s by name only that it was given to me, that it’s for the whole newsroom,‘’ Dohrmann told more than 200 newspaper employees who had gathered for the 2 p.m. announcement. ``I hope everybody here feels like a part of this. The Pioneer Press doesn’t get enough credit in the Twin Cities, but we made ‘em look at us.’‘p. Dohrmann was lead reporter in the series of stories that began March 10, 1999. He remained on the story exclusively through the spring. Other Pioneer Press reporters and writers with important contributions to the coverage were Judith Yates Borger, Rick Linsk, Dave Shaffer, Blake Morrison, Kris Pope, Charley Walters, Jeff Seidel, Bob Sansevere, Aron Kahn and Amy Becker. Sports Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz oversaw the Pioneer Press’ near-daily coverage.p. Dohrmann’s first story capped three months of interviews and fact-gathering. The story began: ``At least 20 men’s basketball players at the University of Minnesota had research papers, take-home exams or other course work done for them during a five-year period.‘’ The story said that four former players confirmed the work was prepared for them.p. The story appeared in the Pioneer Press on the eve of the Golden Gophers’ appearance in the 1999 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The timing caused tremors throughout Minnesota and beyond. Gov. Jesse Ventura called the newspaper ``despicable,‘’ and hundreds of readers canceled subscriptions.p. The university launched its own investigation, which led to the negotiated exit of coach Clem Haskins and the resignation of men’s athletic director Mark Dienhart. Among other sanctions, university President Mark Yudof cut back on men’s basketball scholarships, restricted recruitment efforts and returned money earned from the team’s participation in three previous NCAA championship tournaments.p. Ventura declined to comment personally on Monday, but through spokesman John Wodele remarked, ``I never said it wasn’t a good story. All I commented about was the timing.‘’p. Yudof, a former dean at the University of Texas School of Law, called the award ``deserved’’ and said Dohrmann’s work was ``a piece of outstanding investigative journalism.‘’p. ``I used to teach the First Amendment, and the story does vindicate the checking power of the First Amendment,’’ Yudof said. ``I can’t help but add I would have felt better if it had been someone else’s institution.‘’p. Tonya Moten Brown, the university’s vice president and chief of staff who now oversees Minnesota athletics, said, ``I guess I would offer congratulations. It was a major piece of work, to the extent that the report basically validated the initial charges. I can only hope that some of the actions that the university has taken have at least started the university along the road to re-establishing some credibility with the general public.‘’p. Elayne Donahue, former director of the university’s academic counseling unit, was a major source in the Pioneer Press’ continued coverage of the fraud. She was ``elated’’ to learn of Dohrmann’s award and congratulated the newspaper’s grit in persevering through controversy and staying with the story.p. ``I saw (Dohrmann) persisting to find the truth through a long, tedious ordeal,‘’ she said. ``My respect for him grew during the year I knew him.’‘p. Walker Lundy, the Pioneer Press’ executive editor, called the Pulitzer an ultimate validation for intensely scrutinized coverage that ``never once required us to run one correction.‘’p. After Monday’s announcement, newspaper employees showered Dohrmann with screams, applause and champagne in the heart of the sixth-floor newsroom in downtown St. Paul. Dohrmann joined the cheers until wiping away tears with a T-shirt imprinted with: ``Pioneer Press Pulitzer Prize 2000: We Just Keep Getting Better.‘’p. A rock band composed of Pioneer Press employees broke through the celebration with a version of ``Twist and Shout.’‘p. ``I’m a big believer that if you cover the college sports beat, you also cover the police blotter and the courtrooms,‘’ said Dohrmann, who is now an investigative sports reporter for the Pioneer Press. ``This was my first run as the lead guy on something like this. (The editors) never laughed at me, never told me to shut up. They just trusted me and were totally supportive.’‘p. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Dohrmann came to the Pioneer Press in August 1997 after interning at the San Diego Union-Tribune and, later, as an intern and part-time sports writer at the Los Angeles Times.p. At the Times, he worked closely with other reporters and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, then an associate sports editor, on investigations of athletes who had committed crimes and the involvement of athletic shoe manufacturers in youth sports. For the most part, though, he answered phones and covered high school games. At the Pioneer Press, Garcia-Ruiz gave Dohrmann his first full-time job in journalism.p. Dohrmann would not have unearthed the story without Jan Gangelhoff, a former office manager with the university, who wrote papers and did take-home exams for men’s basketball players. She spoke with Dohrmann a few times each week for nearly three months before detailing, on the record, the scope of her work on behalf of the basketball program.p. The impact of her revelations and the subsequent stories is still sinking in, said Gangelhoff, who choked back tears when she learned of the Pulitzer Prize.p. ``I’ll never regain the relationships I lost. That’s what I gave up. That’s painful,‘’ she said. ``I knew people would probably lose their jobs. But to me, that wasn’t as important as changing the way things are done in men’s basketball, so those kids had a fighting chance. If what I’ve seen happen at the U is an indication of real changes taking place, it’s all been worth it.’’p. The Pioneer Press previously had won two Pulitzer Prizes, each for feature writing. John Camp won in 1986 for his five-part series on farm life in southwestern Minnesota and Jacqui Banaszynski won in 1988 for her three-part series on a political activist and farmer who suffered from AIDS.

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