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The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer today won the 1981 Pulitzer...

By
PETER COSTA, UPI Senior Editor

NEW YORK -- The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer today won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service for its series on brown lung disease that afflicts textile workers.

Other major 1981 awards went to the staff of the Longview (Wash.) Daily News for distinguished general local news reporting; Clark Hallas and Robert B. Lowe of the Arizona Daily Star for investigative, or special local reporting; John M. Crewdson of the New York Times for national reporting; Shirley Christian of the Miami Herald for international reporting; the late John Kennedy O'Toole for fiction; and Larry C. Price of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram for spot news photography.

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The Charlotte Observer won the public service award and its accompanying gold medal for a series of 22 articles and eight editorials showing the failure of government, industry and the medical profession to control the problem of byssinosis -- or brown lung -- caused by a cotton dust breathed by 115,000 textile workers.

A month of investigation and research showed existing regulations to limit the dust were largely ignored and that both the textile industry and its workers largely accepted the disease as commonplace, the Pulitzer Prize board said.

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Industry and government responded with anger and resistance, but changes occured.

As a result of the series, the North Carolina labor commissioner got more money and people for his inspection staff, additional personnel were assigned the North Carolina industrial Commission, and streamlined methods were instituted to speed compensation awards, the panel said.

By the end of 1980, textile workers in North Carolina had received a record $4 million in workers' compensation for brown lung -- more than the total paid in the previous nine years.

In South Carolina, a week after the series ran the Industrial Commission awarded a disabled millworkers $86,000 -- the highet compensation ever awarded a worker with brown lung.

The 1981 prizes were announced by Michael J. Sovern, president of Columbia University and president of the Pulitzer Board.

The Observer's newsroom heard of the prize on an open telephone line to UPI. About 75 reporters gathered to drink champagne and Editor Richard Oppel stood on a desk and made spoke to the group.

'I want this Pulitzer to be a unifying factor for this entire newspaper,' Oppel told his newsroom. 'We're as good as we are and able to do what we do because of the support of others. You don't do this kind of journalism on the cheek. The glory, to the extent we have it, should be shared by everyone in the building.'

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The 'special local' or investigative reporting award went to Hallas and Lowe, who in January 1980 undertook an investigation into a southern Arizona institution no one had ever dared threaten -- the sports department of the University of Arizona.

Their probe revealed that four players and their wives were hired by the city of Tucson for work they never did. Other players were farmed out to community colleges for courses they never attended, and the head coach was caught in an airline ticket fraud scheme that eventually brought about his resignation and indictment on 88 felony counts.

The Longview Daily News won its award for coverage of the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano.

Less than an hour after the volcano erupted, the newspaper had reporters near the mountain and a photographer flying around it, the Pulitzer Board said. Every editorial hand in town voluntarily reported for work. One photographer worked 38 continuous hours. The paper added four open pages a day for the next five days.

Reporters trudged through mudflows and climbed across rooftops for interviews. Most worked 80 hours the first week. In two weeks they wrote more than 400 volcano stories, the board said in its commendation.

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The circulation of the Daily News is 26,000.

Shirley Christian's datelines spanned the miles between Bolivian jails and the United Nations, the Pulitzer Board said.

In 1980, she covered the violent funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador and the death of the American nuns there. She explained the turbulence in that and other central American countries and the reactions of the United States.

'And she reported the human stories -- the peasant, the soldier, the landowner,' the Pulitzer Board said.

Crewdson won his national reporting award for coverage of illegal aliens and immigration. Price won the spot news photography award for a photograph from Liberia of an execution by firing squad.

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