After the Pulitzer, was it happily ever after? Not exactly. Coverage of Latinos turned uneven, hitting highs and lows over the next 20 years that I stayed at the Times. A full examination of those years is outside the scope of this story.
The Pulitzer victory also had uneven effects on staff members. No one got any immediate promotions or, as far as I know, raises. Some team members felt that, once they returned to their regular assignments, their Pulitzer contributions were not fully recognized.
Greenwood ultimately called the shots on all of us in the Metro area, and not all team members fared well. A line from his Times obituary rings true: “Greenwood’s forthrightness could buoy the reporters he mentored and sting those who got on his wrong side.”
Within 11 years, nine of the 17 team members had left the Times. Some departed for attractive opportunities in what is typical newsroom turnover. Others, however, felt their work was not respected or felt frustrated that they were not advancing at the newspaper. Eight of us remained, producing both daily stories and in-depth coverage into the 21st century. Sadly, as previously stated, five team members have died since 2004: Rick Corrales, Frank del Olmo, Al Martinez, Robert Montemayor and George Ramos.
Forged successful careers
What is abundantly clear is that all our team members went on to other successes and notable careers, either at the Times or elsewhere.
For example, Frank del Olmo became Times associate editor, the first Latino on the newspaper’s masthead. He was a powerful voice as author of nearly 450 columns. In 1994, he wrote a forceful editorial as a dissent from a Times endorsement of Gov. Pete Wilson for reelection. Del Olmo criticized Wilson’s support for the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187. Until the day he died at age 55 in 2004, he remained an advocate for greater diversity in the newsroom and in news coverage.
Two team members remain on the Times’ news staff, each with more than 34 years of service. Louis Sahagun stands as one of the most prolific writers in Times history with more than 2,500 bylines as of early December 2016. He was a frontline reporter in at least three reporting efforts that won Pulitzer Prizes in spot news reporting. After a few years as a Business general assignment reporter, Nancy Rivera Brooks took on the prized energy beat that brought her front-page bylines. In 2004, she was promoted to assistant business editor and continues in that position.
Three journalists eventually moved to academia fulltime. George Ramos contributed key reporting for two other Pulitzer Prizes, became a Metro section columnist and co-anchored a current-affairs program on KCET, the local PBS station. He left in 2003 to become director of the journalism department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Ramos died in 2011 at age 63. Virginia Escalante won community and alumni awards in Tucson while teaching journalism at the University of Arizona. In 1996, she earned her master’s degree at UC San Diego and is in her 17th year of teaching, first at San Diego Mesa College and now at San Diego City College. Victor Valle continues a 27-year teaching and research career as professor emeritus of ethnic studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Five of his books have been published and two others are scheduled for publication.
One becomes a CBS correspondent
After leaving the Times, Juan Vasquez became an on-air reporter in Latin America for CBS News. Then, he became foreign/national editor of The Miami Herald and, from 2003 to the end of 2016, its opinion page editor and chief editorial writer. Robert Montemayor left the Times soon after the Pulitzer and earned an MBA at UCLA. He assumed executive positons in New York as a circulation director at the Wall Street Journal and a vice president at Business Week. He died in 2015 at age 62. Marita Hernandez married and moved to Chicago, volunteering there for school, church and organizations serving children, the developmentally disabled and immigrants. She teaches ESL classes in Latino neighborhoods of Chicago.
Julio Moran became executive director of the California Chicano News Media Association and has taught journalism at Cal State Northridge and USC. In 1996, Moran received the NAHJ President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, Al Martinez became a columnist for a 25-year span at the Times, beloved by his fans as the “Bard of L.A.” for his eloquent storytelling of everyday life. He also wrote five books and scripts for TV shows. He died in 2015 at age 84. David Reyes continued reporting for the Times for nearly three decades, including coverage of surfing competitions abroad, before transitioning to freelance writing and later working as a law firm consultant.
Returning to his Tucson hometown, José Galvez ran a Chicano art gallery there and then moved to North Carolina, where he continues his photographic documentation of Latinos in the South and East. He is a featured speaker at dozens of colleges each year and is the author of “Shoe Boy” and photographer for the books “Americanos,” “Vatos” and “Beloved Land.” Rick Corrales invented and gained a patent for a 360-degree spin shot camera. He later became a successful entrepreneur who developed software code for flip photos and 3D imaging. Corrales died in 2005 at age 48. Monica Almeida had a 24-year career as a photojournalist for the New York Times and continues photographic projects in Los Angeles. Aurelio José Barrera worked at the Times as a photographer and assignment editor for more than 20 years.
It was hard to see so many of the team members leave the paper. Every time I walked by the 1984 Pulitzer gold medal, mounted in a display case on the Times’ second floor, a flood of memories splashed across my brain.
I did get a promotion in 1983, but it came during the series reporting period, not because of the Pulitzer. Greenwood promoted me to assistant Metro editor. After the series, I got a plum editing assignment: co-editor of Metro coverage for the 1984 Summer Olympics. When I applied for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, having the Pulitzer on my resume gave me a boost, and I was selected for the 1985-86 class.
I worked as assistant Metro editor for 18 years, including three years heading the bilingual Nuestro Tiempo section. While on Nuestro Tiempo, I felt that I was precluded from serious consideration for Metro promotions because Greenwood wanted me to continue in that role. After returning to the City Desk, I supervised a 1993 series with a title that would be apt today: “Immigration: The Great Divide.” I took a buyout in 2005 when the Times made one of a series of drastic staff cuts.