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Shaping American journalism: Documentary looks at Pulitzer the man and Pulitzer the prize

James McGrath Morris knows a thing or two about the Pulitzer Prize.

In fact, he’s written the biography “Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.”

The Santa Fe resident is also featured in the documentary “The Pulitzer at 100,” which will screen Sunday, Aug. 6, in Santa Fe. The event is part of the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival.

McGrath is also the biographer for Joseph Pulitzer.

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“What a lot of people don’t know about Pulitzer is, one, he was Jewish,” he says. “His experiences with anti-Semitism in the U.S. are many. He faced a lot of hostility.”

The film screening is timed to coincide with the Pulitzer’s centennial – the first Pulitzer was awarded in 1917.

James McGrath Morris

The documentary takes a look at Pulitzer, the man, and Pulitzer, the prize. McGrath will be in attendance at the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival’s regional premiere.

He says the story of the Pulitzer Prize is told through fascinating firsthand accounts of recent Pulitzer Prize winners, including journalists Thomas Friedman, David Remnick, Carl Bernstein and Nicholas Kristoff; authors Robert A. Caro, Michael Chabon, Paula Vogel and Junot Diaz; musicians Wynton Marsalis and John Adams; and photographers John Filo and Nick Ut.

In the film, Bernstein recounts the threats he received when it became known that he and Bob Woodward were going to break the story that would ultimately bring down President Richard Nixon.

McGrath and other experts tell the story of Pulitzer, the man.

Born to a wealthy Jewish Hungarian family and educated in private schools and by tutors, Joseph Pulitzer decided at age 17 that he wanted to leave his provincial surroundings. He was ensured passage to America by enlisting in the Union Army through a bounty hunter recruiting in Germany at the time. Speaking little English, but with business acumen and a drive to succeed, Pulitzer transformed himself.

By age 25, he was a respected journalist and the publisher of a German-language newspaper in St. Louis.

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Four years later, he was the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Pulitzer went on to transform journalism, imbuing it with a populist appeal. He repeated his success with the purchase of the New York World, making it the newspaper with the highest circulation in the country.

McGrath was also a reporter in Albuquerque during the 1970s.

“What we realized about Pulitzer is that it’s not just about getting a prize,” he says. “Joseph has shaped a lot of American journalism. He had a vision and worked tirelessly to make it all happen.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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