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The Press: Stamina’s Reward

3 minute read

For a distinguished example of local reporting in a United States newspaper, published daily, Sunday, or at least once a week, during the year, the test being the quality of local news stories written under the pressure of edition time.

—Pulitzer Prize category

It was the Fourth of July, and Robert David Mullins, the Salt Lake City Deseret News correspondent in Price, Utah, a mining town 125 miles south of the state capital, was celebrating the holiday by watching his four-year-old daughter wave sparklers in the warm desert evening. Then the phone rang. Murder had been done in Monticello, a tiny village 150 miles away. Correspondent Mullins, whose beat covers four counties and 17,488 sq. mi., is thoroughly conditioned to long-distance assignments; he wasted no time getting to work.

On the way, Mullins stopped off in the town of Moab, and there he got word of an even juicier crime. Near by, on a mesa called Dead Horse Point, someone had waylaid a car of tourists from Connecticut, shot and wounded Charles Boothroyd, 55, shot and killed Mrs. Jeannette Sullivan, 41, and vanished into the desert with Mrs. Sullivan’s teen-age daughter Denise (TIME, July 14). Cursing his reportorial luck—the timing meant that the evening Deseret News’s competitor, the morning Tribune, would print the story first. Correspondent Mullins forgot about Monticello and headed for Dead Horse Point.

Bad Timing. Time worked against Mullins and the Deseret News on nearly every important development of the case. The morning Tribune was so emphatically first with the murder-abduction that when Mullins’ story appeared in the afternoon, it did not even rate column eight—the preferred Page One spot for the big story of the day. Once more, simply because it was a morning paper, the Tribune scooped the Deseret News on the apprehension of the killer. Even more embarrassing, the guilty man turned out to be one Abel Aragon, one of Mullins’ neighbors back home in Price, who put a bullet in his head when FBI men stopped his car. “I never even suspected him,” said Mullins ruefully, before stitching together what was by necessity largely an echo of the Tribune’s earlier coverage.

Correspondent Mullins doggedly stayed with the case until the search for Denise Sullivan was called off (her body has not yet been found). He logged 1,800 miles—much of it driving the 500-mile round trip to Salt Lake City with photographs. “Stamina,” as Mullins himself put it, was about all the story required, and that Mullins had. At length, his stamina delivered a modest payoff. The reporter was with a search party in the desert when the murder gun was found one morning. Mullins begged the use of a mining company’s two-way radio and flashed word of the discovery in time for the Deseret News’s final edition.

Refreshing Candor. Last week the stamina of the Deseret News’s Price correspondent paid off again—in a more handsome manner. For “distinguished”‘ reporting under deadline pressure, Robert David Mullins won one of journalism’s most coveted awards, a Pulitzer Prize. The Deseret News, which had been aching to even the score with the Tribune,* knew just how to react: it plastered self-congratulations all over the paper. But hardworking Correspondent Mullins. who was scooped on the major portions of his story, could hardly understand what all the shouting was about. Said he with refreshing candor: “I’m stunned with disbelief.”

* Which won a similar Pulitzer in 1958 for its coverage of the airline disaster over the Grand Canyon that took 128 lives.

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