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News honored for ‘superbly reported’ snowstorm coverage

Brian Connolly, managing editor of The Buffalo News, celebrated the paper’s recognition as a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize breaking news reporting category Monday afternoon in a hastily assembled gathering in the middle of the newsroom.

“What was done by this entire staff during the November snowstorms was nothing short of incredible in my opinion, and today, I would say in the opinion of the people in New York who decide these things,” Connolly said.

He then read aloud what the Pulitzer Prize Board said about The Buffalo News’ coverage: “Superbly reported and written account of a lake-effect snowstorm, using human detail to illuminate the story and multimedia elements to help readers through the storm.”

“The thing that was awesome about this was that everybody pitched in,” Connolly said. “We showed what this news organization can do when we all get together and set our minds together. There’s no one better – with all due respect to (Pulitzer winner) Seattle.”

In all, the seven days of concentrated storm coverage involved 40 reporters, six photographers, 16 editors, an airplane and two snowmobiles.

Chief photographer Derek Gee and reporter Janice Habuda braved chest-deep snow to try to reach motorists and truckers stranded on the Thruway.

Reporter Mark Sommer, unable to drive into South Buffalo, went there on foot. Colleague Lou Michel, also covering South Buffalo, helped Buffalo Bills Coach Doug Marrone and others push a car out of a snowbank.

Connolly and Digital Editor Geoff Nason turned Connolly’s SUV into a mobile newsroom, posting regular updates from Hamburg. Several reporters, stranded in their homes, gave accounts from their front windows.

Dale Anderson wrote a riveting account of a woman who wrote farewell letters to her family while trapped inside a snowbound car – a story that was picked up internationally. T.J. Pignataro and Maki Becker pulled together round-the-clock coverage of the unyielding storm and its aftermath. Denise Jewell Gee created an interactive, online graphic of snowfall totals.

“I am proud of the staff for its terrific coverage of the lake-effect storm,” said Michael K. Connelly, News editor and vice president, in a congratulatory email to the newsroom. Connelly was out of town Monday.

“It was a true team effort – photographers, reporters, editors, the desk. We did a great job for readers, and I am thrilled your work was recognized.”

Managing editor Connolly singled out Stanley Evans, deputy managing editor, for directing the weeklong coverage of one of Western New York’s worst recorded storms.

“He’s been here a long time, through big stories and little stories, and we all know Stan knows what to do, how to do it and leads by example. He’s the epitome of what this place is all about,” Connolly said.

Evans praised the different departments of the newsroom for coming together – often at great personal sacrifice – to provide print and online coverage in hard-pressed areas at a time the community needed it.

“That super snowstorm left in its wake a community that suffered tragedy but reacted with heroism, compassion and perseverance,” Evans said. “It was our job to find those stories and tell them. That’s what a community newspaper does.”