WIU Alum Wins Pulitzer For Local News Reporting
April 20, 2011
MACOMB, IL – Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Konkol, a Western Illinois University alumnus, learned April 18 that he, and his reporting team, received the highest honor awarded to American journalists – the Pulitzer Prize.
Soon after the news of the Pulitzer Prize erupted throughout the Sun-Times newsroom, Konkol was asked what this meant to him. His response: "This is totally unexpected, and it's a great thing. I'm just glad that I work with such great people, and it's about time the Sun-Times got some recognition for the work we do every day." (see Sun-Times news release at suntimes.com/news/metro/4900802-417/sun-times-reporters-win-pulitzer-prize-for-local-reporting.html)
Konkol, colleagues Sun-Times crime reporter Frank Main and photojournalist John J. Kim won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Pulitzer judges recognized the trio for "their immersive documentation of violence in Chicago neighborhoods, probing the lives of victims, criminals and detectives as a widespread code of silence impedes solutions." (see pulitzer.org/citation/2011-Local-Reporting)
The impetus for the series of local stories that were published over nine months came from an April 2008 weekend in Chicago when 40 people were shot and seven died. Only one alleged shooter awaits trial. Three others who were shot said they know the shooters, but they refuse to testify. Konkol and Main examined how difficult it is for the police to solve cases because of this prevalent "no snitch" culture in many neighborhoods.
"We spent last summer (2010) burning shoe leather," Konkol said. "We were telling the stories of what it's like to catch a killer from the law enforcement perspective, and how difficult that is because of the unwritten 'no snitch code,' which they discovered in victims and criminals."
The award-winning stories and photo essay are available at suntimes.com/pulitzer.
Born and raised in south suburban Chicago, Konkol's assignments include Chicago neighborhoods and his blog, Konkol's Korner. He has also covered transportation, courts, Chicago City Hall and Cook County government in his 16-year reporting career.
As a teenager at Thornwood High School (South Holland, IL), Konkol was on the football team and was in many gifted classes. He asked his counselor what careers don't require a lot of math and science, and the counselor handed him a journal of careers and their academic requirements.
"I found journalism had the least amount of math and science," said Konkol, who then began learning the craft of writing with his first Konkol's Korner column in the school's paper, The Arrow.
Konkol and College: Lineman to Newsman
The 1991 Thornwood High graduate first chose Culver-Stockton College (Canton, MO), where he was a two-year starting left guard for the football Wildcats and a communication major.
In 1993 he crossed the Mississippi River to look at Western Illinois University's academic programs. That's when he met former Western Courier adviser Terry Lawhorn.
"Terry told me he needed a news editor, and I signed up," said Konkol, who served as the Western Courier news editor from 1993-May 1995.
"The Western Courier was a good experience for me," he added. "It was a good place to do journalism and to learn."
He was a news reporter for the Macomb Journal (now McDonough County Voice), covering city and county government. Konkol graduated in Fall 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, with an option in public communication and human relations, and a second major in journalism.
The News Beat on Chicago's Southside
With his diploma in hand and good experiences in news editing and reporting, Konkol landed his first job with Star Newspapers, a Chicago Sun-Times publication. He wrote for the Daily Southtown and the former Sun-Times Red Streak before joining the Chicago Sun-Times news staff.
What story line does Konkol consider his personal favorite? Covering the Chicago White Sox winning the 2005 World Series – a Southsider's dream come true.
Social Media vs. Print
"Social media is necessary. It's faster; it will always be there," Konkol said. "But it can't change the press. Newspapers are vital. They are from professional organizations that expect accuracy and timelines. We still need writers to tell stories, to have a chance for depth to keep news alive."
Advice to Journalism Students
"Have a 'plan B.' It's tough. There are layoffs, pay cuts and you will probably be overworked," said Konkol. "Be passionate; keep your eyes open; be well rounded; and never give up.
"Early in my reporting, I wanted to be Mike Royko (the Chicago columnist who won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and a best-selling author). I wanted to go after the big story," Konkol added.
"I finally realized it's not getting the big story that I should think about. Instead, I turned my focus on writing the best stories possible," he said.
And now he has a Pulitzer Prize.